Algeria on Screen: Society, Politics, and Culture in the Films of Merzak Allouache 1621965007, 9781621965008

Algeria is, without a doubt, one of the most complex societies of the modern world. This country is known for its ancien

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Table of contents :
Table of Contents
List of Figures
Chapter 1: From Cinema Mujahid to Cinema Jdid
Chapter 2: The Rise of Islamic Fundamentalism and the Subsequent Whirlwind of Violence
Chapter 3: Europe at any Cost
Chapter 4: A Bittersweet Passing of the Storm
Chapter 5: Uncertain Times and New Issues at the Dawn of the New Millennium
Interview with Merzak Allouache
Merzak Allouache’s Complete Filmography
List of Acronyms and Abbreviations
Chronology of Algeria
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Algeria on Screen

Algeria on Screen Society, Politics, and Culture in the Films of Merzak Allouache

Nabil Boudraa

Copyright 2020 Cambria Press All rights reserved. Printed in the United States of America No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in or introduced into a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form, or by any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise), without the prior permission of the publisher. Requests for permission should be directed to [email protected], or mailed to: Cambria Press 100 Corporate Parkway, Suite 128 Amherst, New York 14226, USA Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data on file. ISBN: 978-1-62196-500-8

To Yasmeen, Massin and Dida

Table of Contents

List of Figures . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . ix Prologue . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . xi Preface . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . xiii Acknowledgments . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . xix Introduction . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1 Chapter 1: From Cinema Mujahid to Cinema Jdid . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 15 Chapter 2: The Rise of Islamic Fundamentalism and the Subsequent Whirlwind of Violence . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 35 Chapter 3: Europe at any Cost . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 71 Chapter 4: A Bittersweet Passing of the Storm . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 103 Chapter 5: Uncertain Times and New Issues at the Dawn of the New Millennium . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 137 Conclusion . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 171 Images . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 181 Interview with Merzak Allouache . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 187 Merzak Allouache’s Complete Filmography . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 197 List of Acronyms and Abbreviations . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 199 Chronology of Algeria . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 201 Bibliography . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 209 Index . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 217

List of Figures

Figure 1: Merzak Allouache . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 181 Figure 2: The Rooftops. Band Scene . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 182 Figure 3: Film poster, Investigating Paradise . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 183 Figure 4: Nedjma reading a book . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 184 Figure 5: Nedjma and Mustapha discussing their inquiry . . . . . . . . . . . . 184 Figure 6: Divine Wind poster . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 185 Figure 7: Nour, the terrorist, scolding Amin . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 186

Prologue A civilization that proves incapable of solving the problems it creates is a decadent civilization. A civilization that chooses to close its eyes to its most crucial problems is a stricken civilization. A civilization that uses its principles for trickery and deceit is a dying civilization. —Aimé Césaire Discourse on Colonialism, 1950 The African filmmaker is like the griot who is similar to the European medieval minstrel: a man of learning and common sense who is the historian, the raconteur, the living memory, and the conscience of his people. The filmmaker must live within his society. Why does the filmmaker have such a role? Because like many other artists, he is maybe more sensitive than other people. Artists know the magic of words, sounds, and colors, and they use these elements to illustrate what others think and feel. The filmmaker must not live secluded in an ivory tower; he has a definite social function to fulfill. —Ousmane Sembène, from Ousmane Sembène: Dialogues with Critics and Writers, 1993

Preface I have had a long affair with Algeria, which will undoubtedly never end, and which keeps me from being completely lucid about it… [Algeria] is my true country. —Albert Camus, “Petit guide pour des villes sans passé”, L’été (1947) This epigraph by Albert Camus epitomizes very well my own relationship with Algeria. The only difference perhaps is that Camus was referring to colonial Algeria whereas I am more concerned with postcolonial Algeria. This country is no doubt one of the most complex societies of the modern world. Algeria is known for its ancient history, its multiethnic and multilingual social fabric, its war for independence (1954–1962), its leadership of Third World movements in the 1960s, and for its tragic civil war of the 1990s. This decade, known as “La décennie noire” (“Dark Decade”), was marked by a war, which radical Islamists launched against both the government and the population, resulting in more than 200,000 deaths. Algerian society has been changing so fast that it has become almost impossible for politicians, scholars, and ordinary Algerians to fully understand the underpinnings of these rapid transformations. Having been away from my country for almost a quarter of a century exacerbates


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both my anguish and my desire to comprehend this complex situation. This distance, however, allows for a better perspective as I occupy a position of both insider and outsider, just like Merzak Allouache himself. Most of Allouache’s cinematic work rests on his willingness to answer the following pressing questions regarding Algeria: What went wrong after Independence? How did we, Algerians, allow the emergence of radical Islamists? Why did we give way to such violence? Why could no positive change take place despite the various revolts? Why did the Arab Spring not affect Algeria? What could explain the fact that Algerians are true Mediterraneans in their celebration of life, and yet they often succumb to the weight of anachronistic tradition and religious zeal? Why do Algerian youths love their country and yet risk their lives while attempting to leave it? Why is the country so rich and yet poverty is still prevalent in society? Why is our history so rich and ancient, and yet the official version appears shallow and poor? These questions are by no means exhaustive. They simply constitute a sampling of the considerations one finds in Allouache’s films. This book is not as much about cinema, nor about Merzak Allouache, as it is about post-independence Algeria. Simply put, it is a critical analysis of contemporary Algerian society through the lens of Algeria’s most talented and most prolific filmmaker. My analysis focuses on the transformations that have literally transfigured the social, political, and cultural fabric of this country since its independence in 1962. However, this book does not pretend to elucidate the mystery behind Algeria’s complex situation, nor does it offer answers or solutions to these pressing questions. I simply aim to help readers better understand how Algerian society ended up in this situation by proposing a genealogy of Algeria since its independence. To better understand this complex situation, one must examine the history of the country over the last sixty years, starting with the period immediately following independence. That is precisely what I am suggesting with this personal reading of postindependence Algeria through Allouache’s cinematic vision. One could



obviously choose another filmmaker, but to me Allouache is the only filmmaker who devoted most, if not all, of his cinematic work to his native country. Through an analysis of his films, I attempt to both examine and resuscitate these preoccupations in their historical, socio-political, cultural, and economic contexts. I have been teaching Allouache’s films in my college courses for the past seventeen years, and it is through this teaching that I discovered how helpful these films are to my own understanding of Algerian contemporary society. My frequent visits to Algeria, as well as my readings of academic texts on the country, were simply not enough to have a decent grasp of the situation. Therefore, after compiling all my class notes, watching more of his films, and reading more academic work on Allouache, the idea of writing a book manuscript came to my mind. After drafting a preliminary outline for this book, I immediately decided to contact Merzak Allouache in the hope of discussing this project with him. When I managed to get in touch with him in the summer of 2015, he and I met in a café at the Place de la République in Paris for our first interview. Early in our discussion, I mentioned to him the cinema caravan initiative1 that the Algerian government had organized over that summer in some parts of the country, and he said: “Yes, but they showed Yann Arthus-Bertrand’s L’Algérie vue du ciel (Algeria from Above).” His remark struck me, and I immediately realized that, in a way, it sums up the whole essence of his cinematic work and of this book as well. The authorities have turned their backs on Merzak Allouache’s films, and when they made that small effort to revamp cinema, they chose to highlight only the films that sing the praises of Algeria’s natural beauty. Arthus-Bertrand’s documentary2 is indeed a magnificent aerial and panoramic view of the Algerian landscape, but it does not offer a scrutinized analysis of society. Obviously, governmental officials prefer filmmakers who show an ideal depiction of Algeria’s nature but not its culture. Allouache does exactly the opposite. His camera focuses on society and the problems


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of everyday life. In that same conversation, I mentioned that his films seem to follow Algerian people in their daily existence. He agreed by saying: “Yes, my films are like a diary.” This book could just as well be entitled The Cinematic Diary of Merzak Allouache. In fact, it was my initial title, but as my other objective is to focus on Algeria, I not only inserted the country under study in the title but I also chose to put the country before the filmmaker. This book also aligns itself with Merzak Allouache’s cinema in that he refuses to be in denial of Algeria’s serious troubles. It is precisely his love for Algeria that drives him to critique and hope for a possible way out. The following anecdote told by Allouache himself constitutes an example of this false pride and blind patriotism that is characteristic of so many complacent chauvinists. When Allouache went to present his film, The Rooftops (2013), in Abu Dhabi a few years ago, he saw a small group of women in the audience waving Algerian flags and cheering with some youyous3 before the screening. During the question and answer session at the end of the film, one of these Algerian women was upset and told the director that his film was based on lies, and she started chanting, in defiance, an old slogan in Arabic: “Tahya Al-Djazaïr” (“Long Live Algeria”). This anecdote symbolizes the rift between those who refuse to see their country being destroyed by its leaders and those who pretend to love it but remain both complacent and complicit while the country suffers from incessant hardships.



Notes 1. This ciné-caravane is organized by the Ministry of Culture in the summer of 2015. The purpose is to screen films in the open across the country. The organizers showed films like Ayam (on the late famous singer Warda), El hamdoulilah ma bkach istiaamar fi bladna (Thank God, no more Colonialism in our Country), and Yann Arthus-Bertrand's L'Algérie vue du ciel (Algeria from Above). In short, only films that do not question the status quo. 2. On his website, Yann Arthus-Bertrand says the following:  “L’Algérie est sans doute le pays le plus spectaculaire que j’aie jamais photographié, et c’est aussi celui où j’ai reçu le meilleur accueil.” (“Algeria is without a doubt the most spectacular country that I have ever photographed, and it is where I received the best welcome”). 3. Ululations or high-pitched vocal sounds, produced by North African women in ceremonial events.

Acknowledgments Most and foremost, I would like to thank Paul Richardson, at Cambria Press, for his guidance and patience from the beginning to the end of this book project. I also thank my friend and colleague, Amadou Fofana, who encouraged me to write this book and whose own monograph on the cinema of Ousmane Sembène was a good inspiration for this project. I am also indebted to Merzak Allouache for his availability to answer my questions and for providing me with links to some of his films. My meetings with Allouache could not have taken place if it were not for Olivier Barlet who put me in touch with the filmmaker. I would also like to thank the following friends and colleagues for reading parts of this manuscript: Amadou Fofana, Joseph Krause, Guy Austin, Kayla Garcia, Nancy Barbour, Alek Toumi, Ahmed Bedjaoui, Angelica DeAngelis, Jacob Mundy, Shawn Doubiago, and Réda Bensmaïa. My gratitude also goes to Margaret DeWind, Tanna Wilson, and my friend, Guy Wood, for proofing the manuscript. I also want to thank the American Institute for Maghreb Studies and Oregon State University’s College of Liberal Arts for the research grants in 2016, which allowed me to do some ground work for this project in Algeria. I am also indebted to Oregon State University’s Center for the Humanities for the 2019


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fellowship, during which I managed to complete this book project. Particular thanks go to Joy Jensen and Christopher Nichols at this Center for providing me with an office during my sabbatical leave in fall 2017. The staff at the Oregon State University Valley Library has also been helpful with their excellent Inter-library loan service. I also wholeheartedly thank Mr. Brémaud at CNC (Bois d’Arcy, France) for helping me watch some of Allouache’s films, which are not accessible elsewhere. Robert Parks and Karim Ouaras at CEMA (Centre d’Etudes Maghrébines en Algérie) were also very helpful during my research fellowship in the summer of 2016. I also thank Bahia Allouache (Les Asphofilms) for sharing some screeners and film images. Last, but not least, my spouse, Dida, and my two children, Yasmeen and Massin, deserve my most sincere gratitude for being patient with me while I was working on this project. It is for them that I dedicate this book.

Algeria on Screen

Introduction I belong to a generation that grew up in the years that followed the war of liberation. Like many others, I was patient and idealistic. I attached great hopes to the country’s independence, tomorrow looked promising, the nation was being rebuilt. Today, we need to reconsider everything, tear it all down, and rebuild from scratch.1 —Merzak Allouache The quotation above sums up the essence of Merzak Allouache’s entire cinematic work, which now spans a little over four decades. Allouache was only ten years old at the outset of the Algerian Liberation War in 1954 and only eighteen during the year of independence in 1962. While he witnessed the last years of colonialism, Allouache chose to devote his film production to post-Independence Algeria. His documentaries, television dramas, and feature films have established him as a cinéaste engagé. As an Algerian himself, Merzak Allouache uses a very critical approach to the Algerian social and political systems. Through his films, he addresses the main issues affecting the country from independence in 1962 to the present day. This critical approach has often put him at the center of debates in political circles, the press, and even academia. Most of Allouache’s films (especially the ones produced in the last decade or so) have been controversial and have drawn a lot of criticism from both the press and social media. Conservative and liberal reactions to Allouache’s films are diametrically opposed, but nobody in the fields of cinema, politics, and the media has remained indifferent. Some of his films have also dealt with French society, particularly those that take place in France such as Salut Cousin! (1996), Chouchou


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(2003), Un Amour à Paris (1987), and Tata Bakhta (2011). Even though these particular films are comedies, they include analytical pointers about some aspects of French politics and society. Immigration, ethnicity, religion, and sexual identity are all topics of interest when it comes to contemporary French society. It must also be underlined that Merzak Allouache has been living in Paris since 1994. In addition, he studied in Paris in the early 1960s and then lived there again for few years in the early 1980s. During his four decades of filmmaking, Allouache has created emblematic characters, such as Omar (Omar Gatlato), Boualem (Bab el-Oued City), Alilo (Salut Cousin!), Chouchou (Chouchou), and Omar (Madame Courage), among many others. A common denominator among these characters is their subaltern status. Allouache’s characters are poor and disenfranchised and most of them come from working-class backgrounds. In a recent interview about his latest film, Madame Courage, he declares: “I don’t want to make a film about the middle class. The lower class [people] are more numerous in society, and it is also the group most of the youth belong to. In the film, I want to show the people who have nothing.”2 In Chouchou, the main character is an exiled Algerian transvestite who is trying to survive in Paris. His alter ego, Alilo, in Salut Cousin! faces similar hurdles. They both discover a new ambiance in Paris and find a way to navigate in a new culture. In Bab el-Oued City, a simple baker by the name of Boualem resists bullying fundamentalists who are trying to exert control over his neighborhood, Bab el-Oued. Later, they plan to extend their stronghold on the entire city of Algiers and the whole country. Omar in Madame Courage manages to survive thanks to drugs and petty theft. The young actors in the semi-fiction Normal! are trying hard to express themselves and resist censorship. The young couple in The Repentant gains the viewers’ empathy as they do their best to cope with the tragic death of their daughter, kidnapped and then killed by the Islamists.



In a way, Merzak Allouache’s social cinema resembles that of Ousmane Sembène (Senegal), Youssef Chahine (Egypt), and Ken Loach (England), or even that of the Dardenne brothers (Belgium) in its depiction of ordinary people and their daily struggle against all kinds of oppression. Furthermore, like literature, a cinema that is well rooted in the local is more likely to reach the universal. William Faulkner’s Mississippi, Gabriel Garcia Márquez’s Macondo/Aracataca, and Naguib Mahfouz’s Cairo are all places that became universal names thanks to the depictions of these artists. Algiers and, to a certain degree, Algeria, are in their turn becoming mythical places as a result of Allouache’s filmic representations. Merzak Allouache is interested in the daily life of the Algerian people and to some extent that of the Algerian diaspora in France. He privileges fiction as a mode of expression though his documentaries are also anchored in sociopolitical realities. Allouache loves comedy and he has actually directed a couple of comedies, but his humor is subtle, political, light, and yet often corrosive. He stated in one of his interviews: “I observe society and generally write the movie scripts myself. Even though I have been living in France for a long time, I still want to talk about things that concern Algeria and my characters almost always have ties to Algeria. I like comedy, but I have always preferred comedies that convey something…”3 While watching Allouache’s comedies, the viewer somehow feels the director’s hesitation between the comic and the tragic. In other words, something always seems to prevent Allouache from fully immersing himself in comedy. Unfortunately, it is also true that filmmakers—or any artist for that matter—in North Africa do not have the luxury of making the art they want. Allouache has a talent for comedies, but he suppresses that because he believes that he cannot make comedies when his country is suffering from serious issues. However, humor sometimes emerges in his work, but it is a special type of humor, marked by despair, irony, and allusions. Humor in this case becomes almost like a life jacket. This is a typical characteristic among Algerians, who tend to use humor in order to endure


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difficult moments. In the difficult periods of harsh military regime and oppression in the 1970s and 1980s, people invented innumerable jokes and took pleasure in sharing them with each other. Obviously, humor helps relieve pressure and forget pain, albeit temporarily. Humor, particularly the self-deprecating and teasing types, is also a form of tenderness, which allows one to laugh at the country and the people that they actually love. Influenced by the neo-realist Italian cinema, Allouache draws his inspiration from society. Some of his scripts are inspired by real events such as the killing of the little girl by Islamic terrorists in The Repentant and some of the tragic stories in his 2013 opus film The Rooftops. Another peculiar aspect of Allouache’s work is his focus on the present and his obsession with bearing witness to current events as they happen through his films. In an interview Allouache says: “My projects always take shape after observing street life, the everyday life of a society in motion. Every time I go to Algiers, it seems as though nothing has really changed, and yet I do notice that things are changing.”4 His camera captures that motion and depicts it on screen in a way that helps viewers follow and better understand the vagaries of society.

Biographical Context Allouache was born in 1944 in the working-class Algiers neighborhood of Bab el-Oued to a father who had moved from Kabylia and to a mother from the mythical Algiers neighborhood of Casbah. His father was a postal worker and his mother a housewife, like most Algerian mothers at that time. After graduating from the National Institute of Cinema in Algiers in 1964, Allouache went on to pursue his studies at the celebrated IDHEC (Institut des Hautes Études Cinématographiques) in Paris. A few years later, he returned to Algeria to work as an advisor at the Ministry of Culture. He also worked on several productions for Télévision Algérienne (Algerian Television). He made a name for himself at a young age when his first feature film, Omar Gatlato, entered the official competition of the Cannes Film Festival in 1977. After directing Adventures of a Hero (1978)



and The Man Who Looked at Windows (1982), Allouache moved to France where he directed Love in Paris in 1986, a romantic comedy with a lucid look at the issues of ethnic diversity and discrimination. While in Paris, he also worked on TV documentaries for several French television channels. When Allouache returned to Algeria in the late 1980s, the country was in the middle of social and political transformations, which resulted from the October 1988 riots and the fall of the Berlin Wall the following year. In 1989, he made Following October, a documentary dealing with the riots of October 5, 1988. The civil war of the 1990s in Algeria represents an open wound for Merzak Allouache. In 1993, Allouache returned to feature-length films with a great hit, Bab el-Oued City, a movie now considered a classic in Algerian cinema. The movie deals with the rapid rise of Islamism and revolves around the character of Boualem, a baker who stands up to the bullying Islamists. This film won the International Critics’ Prize at Cannes in 1994 and the Grand Prize at the 1994 Arab Film Festival in Paris. Due to the dangerous conditions in Algeria in the mid-1990s, especially for artists and intellectuals, in 1994 Allouache had to move to France again where he has remained until today. In 1995, he was asked to participate in the international compilation film Lumière et Compagnie, which was a tribute to the founders of cinema. The following year he returned to Cannes with Salut Cousin!, starring Moroccan comedian Gad Elmaleh. This film, which depicts the lives of Algerian immigrants in France, became an international success. In 1998, he made AlgiersBeirut: A Souvenir for the Franco-German TV channel ARTE, which was another opportunity for Allouache to make an “Algerian film without really needing to go there.” In 1999, Allouache went back to Algeria for a short stay, which gave him the idea to shoot The Other World (2000). This film depicts the violence created by the Islamist terrorists during the preceding years through the perspective of a Franco-Algerian woman who went to Algeria to look for her fiancé, Rachid, who had gone there to complete his military


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service, but who disappeared after his regiment was ambushed by Islamic terrorists. In 2002, Allouache collaborated again with Gad Elmaleh in Chouchou, a movie about a North African transvestite in Paris. This film, which starred three celebrated French actors,5 met with huge success in France and could easily have placed Allouache at the highest level of soughtafter directors in France had he chosen to make similar films afterwards. However, he decided to keep making films about his native country, knowing perfectly well that support and success would be less likely to come his way. In 2004, he went back to Algiers to make another comedy about the effects of the Internet on Algeria’s youth. This film, Bab el-Web, was subsidized by French funding and to comply with the subsidy regulations the film had to include at least fifty-one percent of its dialogue in French, even though the entire story takes place in Algiers. This language barrier has, I believe, altered the Algerian touch of the film and prevented it from being more successful. In 2008, Allouache made Tamanrasset, a TV film about clandestine migration from sub-Saharan Africa to Algeria through the Sahara Desert. The pivotal moment in Allouache’s career came in 2009 when he wrote and directed Harragas, a film about Algerian younths who cross the Mediterranean Sea on small boats, risking their lives in the hope of a better future in Europe. The Algerian government, which partially funded the film, did not appreciate its content and has since decided to boycott him and terminate any kind of support for his films. Consequently, Harragas has since been ignored and badly reviewed by some journalists in the Algerian press. In 2011, Allouache infuriated the government again with his highly acclaimed film, The Repentant. The story, based on actual events, is a commentary on the government’s policy of reconciliation by which they offered not just amnesty but also privileges to the terrorists who agreed to turn in their weapons to the police. The Repentant breaks the silence around this issue of amnesty. That same year Allouache made Normal!,



another controversial film on institutional and self-censorship in Algeria in the context of the Arab Spring. In 2013, Allouache released what I believe is his magnum opus, The Rooftops. This movie, structured like a collection of short stories, is an accusation against society in general whereby “nobody likes anybody,” and in which crime, corruption, violence, iniquity, misogyny, fanaticism, charlatanism, and cowardice have become the norm. One of the characters in this film, Krimo, makes a reference to the main character in Omar Gatlato (1976) to show that the situation has not changed much since. In 2016, Allouache made the documentary Investigating Paradise, which features interviews with Algerians from all walks of life regarding their views on the concept of paradise. Its subtle message is about the devastating effects of radical Islam on Algerian society and on its youths in particular. I could not include all of Allouache’s films in this book for two reasons. Firstly, I wanted to analyze only the films that deal, in one way or another, with Algeria. Films like À Bicyclette (2001) and Dans la décapotable (1996) are irrelevant in this case. Secondly, a couple of films, namely the BBC documentary Voices of Ramadhan (1991) and Il était une fois Donyazad (1996) are simply impossible to find. As of this fall 2019, Allouache’s latest feature film, Paysages d’automne (Landscapes of Fall) is still in post-production.

Context and Purpose of Study Algeria is, without a doubt, one of the most complex societies of the modern world. The country is known for its ancient history, its multiethnic and multilingual social fabric, its glorious War of Independence, its leadership for Third World movements in the 1960s, and its tragic “Dark Decade” of the 1990s. No filmmaker (or any other artist for that matter) has depicted this Algerian complexity better than Merzak Allouache. He has devoted his entire filmmaking career, spanning over forty years, to the lucid portrayal of this complex, paradoxical, and fascinating nation. This book is also about the contradictions and compromises of state


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and nation building after decolonization. Historians, novelists, singers, and all kinds of artists, both foreign and local, have produced works that examine Algeria, but my aim in this study is to illustrate how the cinematic lens can, in its turn, offer cogent new perspectives on society. This book aims to not only shed light on the cinematic work of this prolific filmmaker, but also to allow English-speaking readers to better understand the complexity that characterizes contemporary Algerian society. It covers several periods of post-independence Algeria in chronological order: The Boumédiène’s socialist era in the 1970s, the rise of Islamic fundamentalism and the subsequent civil war6 known as the Dark Decade, and finally the recent era, marked by a new cycle of social ills and issues. As far as the Dark Decade is concerned, Algerian novelists, such as Yasmina Khadra, Boualem Sansal, and Aziz Chouaki, as well as filmmakers like Nadir Moknèche, Djamila Sahraoui, and Yamina Bachir-Chouikh, have all taken on the task of writing the violent history of this civil war between the military-backed government and the Islamic fundamentalists. The population was caught in between and suffered enormous casualties. At the conclusion of this tragedy, the Algerian authorities preferred to turn the page (or rather tear it up) and hence impose amnesia on the Algerian people who remained compliant in silence. Consequently, the aforementioned intellectuals took it upon themselves to resist this amnesia by rewriting Algeria’s history, certainly not in the classic tradition, but as fictional renditions of the tragic events. History, after all, is not just about the past, but also includes—and should always include—the present. In this sense, Merzak Allouache surpasses the above-mentioned artists and stands as a visual witness to both Algeria’s past and present. He is, in Kamel Daoud’s terminology, a “diagnostician of the present.” In addition, Allouache’s films give the impression that he is racing against history. In other words, Allouache is so focused on filming history in the making that some of his films carry that anguish in both form7 and content. In his 1993 film, Bab el-Oued City, for example, Allouache foretells the rise



of the Islamist violence in Algeria in the early 1990s,8 but events were happening so fast during those years that by the time he finished his film, the violence, which he had predicted, was already omnipresent.

What Distinguishes this Study Merzak Allouache’s films have been screened at film festivals and studied in college courses all over the world. Yet, to date, no book-length study has been published on his work. Aside from some articles and interviews, published mostly in Europe, Allouache’s cinematic work is still lacking the critical study it deserves, especially in the United States. In addition, academics have published interesting articles on Allouache’s cinema, but the filmmaker’s latest work has not yet been analyzed, due partly to access issues. In a way, I feel privileged because I had access to his most recent films, some of which I already reviewed in academic journals. I also had the chance to co-translate his latest documentary, Enquête au Paradis (Investigating Paradise, 2016) into English, which I will analyze in chapter 5. Furthermore, the scholars mentioned below have produced excellent studies of Allouache’s cinema. However, they focused either on a specific film or on a particular theme in his films. Will Higbee recently published an article that includes a solid panorama of the main topics in Allouache’s work. Roy Armes analyzed Omar Gatlato in a small monograph. Guy Austin examined amnesia and memory in some of Allouache’s films, while Andrea Khalil worked on the topic of masculinity. Réda Bensmaïa examined the significance of space in Salut Cousin! and Mireille Rosello has covered the issue of immigration in both Salut Cousin! and Chouchou. Lastly, in a recent article, I tackled the issue of resistance in some of Allouache’s films. See the bibliography at the end of this book for complete details about these publications. The present study relies heavily on this prior scholarship but differs from it in terms of volume. This book attempts to cover most, if not all,


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of the issues at play in Allouache’s films. Its purpose is also different. While I, too, analyze the films, my primary interest is always to tie these filmic productions to Algeria, in the hope of offering a clearer reading of the country’s recent history. In that sense, I feel closer to the filmmaker himself than to my academic colleagues as I am less interested in the intrinsic value of the films than in their use as “texts” for a better understanding of the complex nature of Algerian society. In Algeria, both the press and academia have overlooked Allouache’s cinematic work. Recently, there has been an increasing interest in contemporary Algerian cinema, but most of the Algerian scholarship seems tailored for a general audience. Lastly, the celebrated Algerian film critic, Ahmed Bedjaoui, has recently written an interesting book about cinema and the Algerian War of Independence.9 My book, however, is different as it deals with postcolonial Algeria with a focus on one filmmaker only.

Contribution of this Volume Obviously, my purpose is to make Merzak Allouache better known to both the American public and Anglophone academia, but I would also like to offer readers with an opportunity to learn more about the pressing issues that affect Algeria and, to some extent, France. Algeria in particular remains little known in North America despite its relevance in today’s world. The issues affecting these two countries are not separate anymore. In today’s globalized world, most events that happen in one region have repercussions somewhere else. The rise of Islamic fundamentalism and its subsequent violence (that Allouache foresaw in his 1993 Bab el-Oued City) have become a worldwide specter. Furthermore, the clandestine migration that affected some of the Mediterranean countries (depicted in both Harragas and Tamanrasset) has recently become an uncontrollable phenomenon in Europe and beyond.



In addition to studying and teaching Allouache’s cinema for the past seventeen years, I have firsthand experience with the most pertinent issues addressed in his films including life in socialist Algeria, the rise of the Islamists in the late 1980s, the subsequent violence of the Dark Decade, diversity, migration, globalization, and the current status quo. Given the relevance and variety of topics covered in Allouache’s films, this book will be of interest to scholars and students in various disciplines, such as media and film studies, history, political science, French and Francophone studies, philosophy, gender and sexuality studies, immigration studies, Middle Eastern studies, Mediterranean studies, Maghreb studies, area studies, and memory studies, among other disciplines.

Structure of this Book This book follows a thematic approach and interweaves different topics in chronological order. Chapter 1, “From Cinema Mujahid to Cinema Jdid: Omar Gatlato and the New Algerian Cinema,” examines how and why Merzak Allouache broke away from the nationalist, state-run cinema and started questioning not only the political regime, but also society as a whole. After working on several film projects for state cinema, which tended to over glorify the ruling party (The National Liberation Front) and the Algerian War of Independence, Allouache wrote and directed his own debut feature film, Omar Gatlato, in 1976. This film, along with Adventures of a Hero (1978) and The Man Who Looked at Windows (1982), focused entirely on the status quo of a young generation of Algerians and proposed a latent but lucid socio-political commentary on Algeria after independence. Chapter 2, “The Rise of Islamic Fundamentalism and the Subsequent Whirlwind of Violence,” analyzes the ways in which Islamic fanaticism took root in Algerian society in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Through the analysis of Bab el-Oued City (1993), I argue that Merzak Allouache was among the first to see this terrorist threat and warn not just his fellow Algerians but also the entire world about this Islamic fundamentalism.


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Life and Death of Algerian Journalists (1997), Women in Action (1989), The Other World (2000), Algiers-Beirut: A Souvenir (1998), and Quiet Days in Kabylia (1994) also narrate the story of the country, already pulled into the vortex of Islamist violence, after the government’s cancellation of the general elections in early 1992, which the FIS (Islamic Salvation Front) was likely to win. Chapter 3, “Escape at Any Cost: Emigration and Immigration,” deals with the tragic and ongoing issue of illegal immigration to Europe from both North Africa and Sub-Saharan Africa. The films Tamanrrasset (2008) and Harragas (2009) outline the multiple reasons behind the urge among Africa’s youth to flee their home countries and hope for a place in an imaginary El Dorado in Europe. Such a journey is often doomed to failure: Thousands of these immigrants die on a daily basis while trying to cross the Mediterranean Sea. The second part of this chapter deals with “Algeria in France”10 and includes A Love in Paris (1982), Salut Cousin! (1996), Chouchou (2003), and Tata Bakhta (2011). This section tackles the different issues affecting the lives of Algerians in France. In addition to considering the plight of the “Beurs” (French people of Algerian/Maghrebi descent), I also examine the double-minority status of the newcomers, particularly the LGBT community. Chapter 4, “A Bittersweet Passing of the Storm,” examines the aftermath of the tragic decade of the 1990s. Algeria entered the new millennium with both a happy and a sad outlook: happy because the violence finally came to an end (Bab el-Web, 2004) but sad because the government had not designed any plan to deal with the trauma caused by that tragedy. The Repentant (2011) examines the government’s law of amnesty toward the terrorists without any referendum. Normal (2011), in contrast, questions the position of Algeria in the context of the Arab Spring. Chapter 5, “Uncertain Times at the Dawn of the New Millennium,” examines the ways in which Merzak Allouache looks at Algeria from 2012 to the present with its new issues and challenges. The Rooftops (2013), Madame Courage (2015), Investigating Paradise (2016), and Divine



Wind (2018) narrate a situation in which Algerians are trying to navigate between tradition and modernity and between the horrors of the past and the promises of the future. This book also includes several appendices: an interview with Merzak Allouache, a bibliography, a complete Allouache filmography, a list of acronyms, a chronology of Algerian history, and some illustrations.


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Notes 1. Gugler, Josef (ed.). Ten Arab Filmmakers: Political Dissent and Social Critique. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2015, p. 189. 2. Aftab, Kaleem, Interview with Merzak Allouache, “Exposing Algeria and the Existential Angst Faced by its Youth,” in The National, September 9, 2015. 3. Interview available on algé 4. Ibid. 5. Alain Chabat, Catherine Frot, and Claude Brasseur. 6. I am aware that this designation of "civil war" to describe this tragedy is highly contentious in Algeria. The idea that there was a "civil war" is not a neutral one that is accepted by most Algerians. I also use, interchangeably, the terms: décennie noire, dark decade, “invisible war,” tragic conflict, and national tragedy. 7. Merzak Allouache had to shoot Bab el-Oued City in a hurry because of the dangerous conditions in the capital city. He had to be content with only one take and never shoot in the same location twice. In addition, he also had to film some sequences in Béjaia, a coastal town in Kabylia, located some 150 miles from Algiers. More recently, due to lack of funding, Allouache had to adjust his filmmaking techniques. I explain this aspect in detail in chapter 5. 8. Islamic fundamentalism has existed in Algeria for a long time, but not with the same intensity. I explain this aspect in detail in chapter 2. 9. Bedjaoui, Ahmed, Cinema and the Algerian War of Independence: Battles of Images.Algiers: Chihab Editions, 2014. 10. Expression borrowed from Paul Silverstein’s book, Algeria in France (Indiana University Press, 2004).

Chapter 1

From Cinema Mujahid to Cinema Jdid Omar Gatlato and the New Algerian Cinema We wondered what we were waiting for, marching up and down in front of the Film Institute or wandering about at foreign film festivals. The longer we waited, the more cinema seemed to slip through our fingers. Now we know. We were waiting for Omar Gatlato. —Wassyla Tamzali, En attendant Omar Gatlato.1

Contextual Background In the epigraph above,2 Wassyla Tamzali was referring to the neverending years of the 1970s when Algerian cinema was dominated by state productions that endlessly praised the Algerian revolution and turned a blind eye to practically everything else. The prevalent feeling about cinema at that time especially among young people was one of weariness and boredom. Most Algerians were weary of watching films about a war that had ended fifteen years before and were anxious to see something new that reflected their daily preoccupations and concerns. Young people


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felt completely ignored and could not see any reflection of their hopes and dreams on the screen. While they were looking toward the future, state cinema offered them a rearview mirror. This chapter provides both the context in which Merzak Allouache emerged and the analysis of the first cycle of his filmography. The government, which had a firm grip on cinema at that time, was feeding the population a demagogical discourse based entirely on the past. Nobody could describe this situation better than Frantz Fanon who foretold this predicament even before the end of the war. He had worked for the FLN (National Liberation Front) during the anticolonial struggle and knew early on that things could easily take a wrong turn after independence. In his seminal work, The Wretched of the Earth, he makes this astonishing prediction: The leader pacifies the people. For years on end, after independence has been won, we see him, incapable of urging on the people to a concrete task, unable really to open the future to them or of flinging them into the path of national reconstruction, that is to say, of their own reconstruction; we see him reassessing the history on independence and recalling the sacred unity of the struggle for liberation. The leader, because he refuses to break up the national bourgeoisie, asks the people to fall back into the past and to become drunk on the remembrance of the epoch, which led up to independence. The leader, seen objectively, brings the people to a halt and persists in either expelling them from history or preventing them from taking root in it. During the struggle for liberation, the leader awakened the people and promised them a forward march, heroic and unmitigated. Today, he uses every means to put them to sleep and, three or four times a year, asks them to remember the colonial period and to look back on the long way they have come since then.3 As mentioned above, the government regurgitated the exploits of the War of Independence and kept reminding the population of the past through a seemingly endless series of films on this war. My criticism does not concern the coverage of the war itself, which constitutes a theme

From Cinema Mudjahid to Cinema Jdid


worthy of mega productions, but lies in the intentional obliteration of both the present and the more distant past. A fair and balanced representation of history would have been appropriate. Fanon was lucid and forebode this hijacking of the revolution by the FLN that inundated the population with images of this particular period of time. The population was indeed drunk for a while by this mythologizing of the War of Independence and hence tolerated the status quo. It is in this context that most of the film productions in the 1960s and 1970s focused on the Revolution.4 Ahmed Bedjaoui, in his recent book5 on cinema and the War of Independence, argued rightly that Algerian cinema focused too much on the war and did not cover the entire period (1830–1954) leading up to it. This indeed would have been a more convenient representation of the past.6 Another flaw regarding the representation of history by the authorities is the complete dismissal of ancient history.7 The alienating effects of this attitude are incalculable today. I will examine this particular issue of history in some of the following chapters since it pertains to some of Merzak Allouache’s films. In the mid-1970s, Merzak Allouache, who had just come back from France, found a job at the Ministry of Culture. He was in charge of the Cinema Bus Program that screened films throughout the country on the agrarian revolution and the redistribution of land by the thensocialist government.8 Later on, Allouache managed to find work as an assistant director at the Office National du Commerce et de l’Industrie Cinématographiques-ONCIC (National Office of Commerce and Cinema Industry). It was a breakthrough for Allouache because to make films during that period one had to be an employee of this government office. While the established filmmakers of that time such as Ahmed Rachedi and Mohamed Lakhdar-Hamina continued to make films on the War for Independence, Allouache submitted his script for Omar Gatlato, which was later accepted and even funded. This marks the beginning of the first cycle of his filmography, which includes Omar Gatlato (1976), Adventures of a Hero (1978), and The Man Who Looks at Windows (1982). The last


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two were less successful and even faced harsh criticism particularly from the press. During that period, Allouache was part of a younger generation of filmmakers who had been influenced by Italian comedies, such as The Pigeon by Mario Monicelli and by some of the French New Wave directors: namely, François Truffaut and Jean-Luc Godard. Both movements focused on the social realities of the common people. Known for their low budgets and use of nonprofessional actors, these cinemas told the stories of everyday life among the working class, the disenfranchised, and the marginalized. It is in this context that Omar Gatlato marked a break from nationalist cinema and began the cycle of, what I call, Allouache’s neorealist cinema. With this first feature film, the director accurately captures the daily realities of young Algerians living in Algiers fourteen years after the country gained its independence from France. The main character, Omar, and his friends struggle with boredom, machismo, and the impossibility of developing any type of relationship with women. Allouache’s effective use of real settings and the dialect of the Algerian street made this film enormously popular with the Algerian moviegoing public.

Synopsis and Analysis While Omar Gatlato is centered entirely in Bab el-Oued, Allouache’s native neighborhood, this film is a microcosmic depiction of the entire country. This particular neighborhood is not similar to other parts of the city, and Algiers is in no way comparable to the other regions of the country. The concerns, however, are not that different; unemployment, lack of opportunities, boredom, poverty, and frustration are all familiar issues to the Algerian lower classes wherever they may be.9 Omar Gatlato tells the story of Omar (who could easily be Merzak Allouache’s alter ego) and his daily life in Bab el-Oued, a popular neighborhood in Algiers. Omar, who works in the fraud department,

From Cinema Mudjahid to Cinema Jdid


often makes raids with his colleagues, chasing illegal sellers of gold and jewelry. In their free time, they go to soccer games, music shows, wedding galas, or other public performances. Omar is passionate about chaabi music, which he records illegally with his cassette recorder during these concerts. He also likes and records Hindi music, available in the multiple melodramas that abound in movie theaters. One night, while returning from a chaabi music show, Omar and his friend are mugged by a band of thugs, and his cassette recorder is stolen. Without his treasured object, Omar feels completely lost. The following day, he goes to see his friend, nicknamed Moh Smina, to ask for another recorder. Moh is an administrative worker like Omar, but he sells all kinds of things on the side to make ends meet. Moh finds Omar a new cassette player-recorder and even offers him a tape, which is supposed to be blank, but when Omar plays the tape, he hears a woman’s monologue recorded on it. Selma’s voice haunts him day and night so Omar begs Moh to help him get in touch with Selma. It is the beginning of Omar’s confrontation with his own masculinity and virility. Omar Gatlato is more subtle than it seems. It is a vivid depiction of Algerian youths and their daily lives during the years following independence. Popular neighborhoods, such as Bab el-Oued, suffered from poor housing conditions, unemployment, poverty, and lack of cultural and educational resources, among other social ills. In this sense, Omar Gatlato functions also as a documentary chronicling the daily life in Algiers at that time. Allouache, being from that neighborhood and having lived overseas for a few years prior to making this film, sees society from the perspective of both insider and outsider. His views on society as a young man resonated among Algeria’s youth. In fact, his film serves as a mirror to them. Allouache, Roy Armes tells us, “has made it clear that, although the film was not based on any kind of sociological survey, it did grow out of his conversations with young people.”10 In any case, Allouache could not overlook his country’s problems at that time.


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Male-Female Relations The most significant focal themes of this film are sexuality and male– female relationships. Allouache acknowledges it when he stated, “I was particularly interested in their [youths’] relationship with women—how there were two distinct societies, one male, one female, being created through various forms of segregation.”11 First, women’s freedom of movement was restricted. Most young women at that time could not easily leave the house as they pleased. Second, the Family Code12 made women minors for life, depending on a male family member. As tradition dictated, fathers, brothers, and husbands kept a close watch on women. Around the same time, the world-renowned Algerian writer Assia Djebar raised this issue in her Women of Algiers in their Apartment.13 In this collection of short stories, Djebar questioned the cloistering of women despite their participation in the fight against the shackles of colonialism. She, too, tackled this issue of male-female relationships in most of her literary works and in her seminal film The Nouba of the Women of Mount Chenoua.14 The irony in Omar Gatlato lies precisely in the fact that Omar, whose nickname “gatlato rejla” means “extremely virile,” is not even courageous enough to talk to Selma at the end of the film. It is not a judgment on Omar himself as it is not entirely his fault. His reticence is the result of a conservative tradition, validated by religion that promotes taboos, restrictions, and false modesty. In one scene, Omar says that every morning he deliberately drops a coin just to catch a glimpse at the woman who watches from a window. In other words, looking, let alone chatting with neighborhood girls, is strictly forbidden. Young people internalize these limitations and perpetuate them through their own behaviors. In a later scene, a young boy calls on Omar to scold a man who apparently is a stranger trying to seduce women in the neighborhood. Roy Armes is correct when he writes that:

From Cinema Mudjahid to Cinema Jdid


The central problematic of the film, for Allouache, is the emotional poverty of the male position in a Muslim society: How is it possible for a young man to mature in a segregated society, which denies him all contact with women other than those of his own family? Even if they feel attraction, how can young Muslim men translate this into meaningful action?15 One can indeed trace some of the major issues affecting Algeria’s youth to this disconcerting circumstance where men and women cannot have any open relationships until marriage. Conservatives in Algeria, or in any other North African country for that matter, make the situation even worse when they turn discussions about any aspect of sexuality into a taboo. In the same book, Armes cites another film critic, Abdou B., who describes Omar Gatlato as “the degree zero of depicted or spoken sex.”16 As we can see in the film, Omar even finds it hard to talk to Selma on the phone. Four decades later, this problem remains the same, if not worse. In December 2015, a collective rape incident occurred in Cologne, Germany where several young German women were sexually assaulted by some Middle Eastern and Maghrebi men. This event stupefied people not just in Germany but around the world as people simply could not grasp why this happened. Terrorist attacks have become all too frequent, but massive rape of the kind that occurred in Cologne was unprecedented. Kamel Daoud, an Algerian francophone intellectual, wrote an op-ed in Le Quotidien d’Oran, a daily francophone newspaper, explaining the reasons behind this tragic incident but he was attacked by both the press and intellectual circles, especially in France. Daoud effectively used sociological analysis to make sense of this collective rape. In his article, which also appeared in the Sunday Review of the New York Times, Daoud writes: The attacks on Western women by Arab migrants in Cologne, Germany, on New Year’s Eve evoked the harassment of women in Tahrir Square itself during the heady days of the Egyptian


Algeria on Screen revolution. The reminder has led people in the West to realize that one of the great miseries plaguing much of the so-called Arab world, and the Muslim world more generally, is its sick relationship with women (emphasis added).17

Daoud’s use of words like “sick,” “plague,” and “misery” to describe this relationship between men and women in the Muslim world suggests deepseated sexual repression and ill-controlled drives that found expression in mass rape. Daoud’s aim was only to offer an intellectual explanation of this tragic situation. Unfortunately, some members of the French intelligentsia published a harsh indictment against Daoud, accusing him of fueling Islamophobia.

On Other Subtleties Some scenes in Omar Gatlato, such as those about Omar’s furtive look at a woman and that of the stranger who is suspected of being a seducer, are not accidental. For a Western viewer, they might seem trivial, but they are, as mentioned, digressions replete with social commentary. This is a legacy of Algeria’s oral tradition with its numerous techniques of detour, digressions, circular movements, and allusions. These aspects of storytelling obviously disorient and confuse the Western reader (and viewer in this case) because he or she is accustomed to a linear storyline and concision. In the United States, if a scene, for example, does not push the story forward, it has no place in either a film or a book. Oral storytelling, in contrast, invites the listener, the reader, or even the viewer to fill in the gaps and be involved in the exchange. It is through similar scenes and sequences that Allouache develops his topics. One such example concerns the disconnection between the people and forced entertainment. While the audience is waiting for their beloved chaabi singer, Abdelkader Chaou, to start the show, they are first subjected to a flat and irritating play in classical Arabic. Allouache then shows one of Omar’s friends yawning, followed by whistles and booing

From Cinema Mudjahid to Cinema Jdid


in the audience. The next scene is both surreal and hilarious because one part of the audience decides to create its own fun by clapping, singing, and dancing while the play continues. The point of that scene is to show that people are tired of falsehood and mediocrity. Furthermore, as long as government institutions forcefeed them these demagogical discourses, people have recourse to their own creativity and thus ignore the government and its official shows. Furthermore, Omar Gatlato’s richness also resides in the layers of meaning in almost every sequence. For example, when Omar and his colleagues arrest veiled women in the streets for selling jewelry on the black market, the women ask for forgiveness because they must feed their children. Poverty compelled these poor women to make those illegal sales, and Allouache seems to question these futile arrests as they are simply trying to make a living. One of the most obvious (and yet subtle) political references in the film relates to Omar’s uncle who bores the entire family with his frequent lies about his heroic deeds in the War of Independence. This topic has been sickening Algerian society since the first days of independence. Thousands of people claim participation in the war solely to reap the numerous benefits and money allowances given to the mujahidin (war veterans). Some of these so-called veterans did not actually fight in the war, and a number of them were even sellouts. This situation has created resentment as millions of Algerians witness this injustice in the distribution of wealth. More importantly, Allouache seems to suggest early on that this mythmaking about heroes of the revolution is a social and political scourge like any other. The situation became worse because even two generations after the War of Independence this practice of unjustly awarding benefits is still carried on by the Ministry of the Mujahidin. In fact, in his 2013 film, The Rooftops, Allouache took up this theme again with a more candid and virulent approach (see chapter 5).


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Ruse against Censorship When Allouache made Omar Gatlato, Algeria was under the strict control of Boumédiène’s military government. Television programs were censored, subversive artists and intellectuals jailed, and political opponents killed. Filmmakers were no exception. Their film scripts had to pass review committees. So, how did Merzak Allouache manage to circumvent this obstacle and break the mold? In the following anecdote, he tells how he learned to evade governmental censorship early on in his career: Je n’ai jamais été à l’aise dans mon travail de réalisateur en Algérie, j'ai toujours travaillé dans un contexte hostile qui m’a poussé à ruser pour m’en sortir. Pour mon premier film, Omar Gatlato, j’ai écrit le scénario en tant que salarié de l’Office du Cinéma. Afin de juger si mon film pourrait être tourné, le scénario est passé par une commission de lecture anonyme. Je me suis renseigné pour connaître l’identité des lecteurs, ils étaient deux, et je les ai rencontrés car je voulais pouvoir discuter avec eux avant qu’ils donnent un avis qui déterminait ma possibilité de faire le film. L’un d’eux, un écrivain, m’a expliqué ce qu’il fallait que je change si je voulais que mon film soit admissible. J’écrivais dans un petit carnet. Il a complètement modifié mon film. J’ai dit que j’appliquerais ses conseils, l’autorisation de tournage m’a été donnée, et j’ai tourné le film à mon idée. On ne s’est jamais revus et je ne sais pas s’ils ont vu le film… J’ai commencé à comprendre que l’on était presque dans un cinéma de clandestinité: il ne fallait jamais se mettre en avant, il fallait être discret pour faire ce que l’on souhaitait réaliser.18 I have never been at ease in my work as a filmmaker in Algeria. I have always worked in a hostile setting, which pushed me to use tricks in order to get by. For my first film, Omar Gatlato, I wrote the script as an employee of the Cinema Office. My script had to go through an anonymous committee for approval. I checked on the identity of the two members of that commission. I met them, because I wanted to talk with them before they gave their opinions, which would determine my possibility of making that film. One of them, a writer, explained to me what I needed to change in

From Cinema Mudjahid to Cinema Jdid


order for my film to pass. I took notes in a small notebook. He completely changed my film. I told him that I would follow his advice, but when I was given permission to shoot, I made the film the way I wanted. I have not seen them since, and I do not know if they even saw the film… I started to understand that we were almost in a clandestine cinema: people had to avoid revealing their true feelings, instead they had to be discreet in order to be able to do whatever they wanted to do. (My own translation). To make this film, Allouache had to engage in ruses and even use the comedy genre to bypass the censorship commission. This censorship also comes in several forms as we shall see in the following chapters. The avoidance of state censorship by artists is actually a very interesting phenomenon because it adds a layer of complexity to their work, which may be confusing to outside viewers. Humor and wit, in this particular film, play a huge role in overcoming censorship. From Allouache’s anecdote, it is also worth emphasizing the corruption of some writers during Boumédiène’s regime. They not only chose to be on the side of the government but also helped the latter impose censorship on their counterparts. When the film was screened for the Minister of Culture Ahmed Taleb Ibrahimi and his staff, it was approved simply because they did not fully understand it. The Minister could not follow the humor or the social implications of the film, but he thought the film was a break from the long cycle of films whose only subject matter was the Revolution. The fracture between the governmental circles and the common people even at the cultural level, was too obvious. While Algerians felt a connection to the film, the Minister could see only characters who “drank too much beer and lacked patriotic inclinations.” There are several issues at hand in this situation. The government officials saw no apparent threat from this film so they allowed its screening. However, a new Minister of Culture wanted to prevent Allouache from doing interviews at the Cannes Festival, lest he say negative things about Algeria. This illustrates the degree of paranoia


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prevalent in that time period. In the end, the success of Omar Gatlato opened the door for a new group of filmmakers who were also creatively critical of Algeria’s regime.

Darja: The People’s Language on Screen and the Importance of Dialogue Even though diglossia is of less importance than gender inequality, it is a recurring theme in Allouache’s films. Since independence, the Algerian government has carried on with the French Jacobinist model of nation building and has imposed classical Arabic as the only official language in the country much to the detriment of the spoken colloquial Arabic, known as Darja, and the Berber languages such as Kabyle, Chaoui, Targui, and Mozabite, among several others. Let us examine then how Allouache has participated in this movement of resistance against the government’s linguistic and cultural campaign of sabotage, which started with independence in 1962. One of the main reasons for the success of Omar Gatlato is the use of Darja, the dialect which most Algerians use in their daily life.19 At a time when the Algerian people were accustomed to watching films made in classical Arabic, Merzak Allouache’s film was shot almost exclusively in this popular idiom, which guaranteed viewers’ feeling of immediacy to the film. One particularly comic scene shows young men in a movie theater interrupt a play in classical Arabic and ask the organizers to skip this prelude and start the long-awaited concert by the popular chaabi singer Abdelkader Chaou. Darja has since found its way into most of the films produced in Algeria especially those by independent filmmakers. However, it was not until the early 1990s that Berber-speaking filmmakers began making films in what is known as Tamazight, the indigenous language of North Africa. Allouache, whose native language is Darja, has included Kabyle in some of his films especially in his recent productions. In The Rooftops,

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for example, Akli, the well-built athlete, voices his frustration at one of the characters in Kabyle. This was a courageous gamble by Allouache because not everyone in Algiers, or in the entire country for that matter, could understand Kabyle even though most of the inhabitants of the capital city are of Kabyle origins, including Allouache himself. In Normal, another character expresses her frustrations in Kabyle during a debate with her friends and acting partners on the nature of protests in Algeria. She argues that they underestimate the violence with which the authorities reacted to the 2001 riots in Kabylia. Her remark also alludes to her subtle reproach for not caring enough about what happens in Kabylia, a region where protests have been commonplace for a long time but unfortunately without any support from other parts of the country. Interestingly enough, the few Kabyle words used in these films are not even subtitled for non-Kabyle Algerians. It is surely an invitation by Allouache for his viewers to think more about the diglossic situation in Algeria. Allouache is one of the very few filmmakers who has taken interest in this Berber-speaking region. In 1994, he made a documentary on the status of Kabylia at the onset of the Dark Decade entitled Jours Tranquilles en Kabylie (Quiet Days in Kabylia), which featured the late protest-singer and symbol of Berber culture Matoub Lounès, who was assassinated in June 1998 in response to his resistance to both Islamic fanaticism and governmental abuse. In sum, Jours Tranquilles en Kabylie seems to tell the story of Algeria through the destiny of one man: Matoub Lounès. Jours Tranquilles shows the anxiety of this local hero (and hence his people’s) about the rising violence at the dawn of the civil war in the 1990s. Dialogue plays an important part in Allouache’s films. As in Ousmane Sembène’s films, and in most African films for that matter, the message comes across through the use of dialogue. The absence of special effects and the dominance of oral tradition make way for dialogue. Merzak Allouache himself testifies to this aspect: “Speech is dominant in our cinema. You can’t do anything about it. There is so much richness in


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speech that when I write a screenplay my greatest pleasures consist in writing the dialogue.”20

Adventures of a Hero and The Man Who Looked at Windows: Political Fables Two years after the success of Omar Gatlato, Allouache managed to direct the equally uncompromising Adventures of a Hero (1978), taking Algerian cinema closer to a new realism. This film, which is more of a fable, is full of symbols and allusions to the harsh political regime of President Boumédiène at that time. For this film, Allouache leaves his Algiers neighborhood and sets his camera in a small desert village somewhere in southern Algeria with the intent of depicting Algeria as a nation. Unfortunately, Adventures of a Hero has been not only misunderstood but also criticized by the press, which obviously did not fully understand its undertones and subtleties. I even argue that if Omar Gatlato shows Allouache’s social awareness, Adventures of a Hero marks the director’s political consciousness. It is almost impossible for the viewer to overlook the political nuances of this film. Allouache also used Adventures of a Hero as the springboard for major themes in his subsequent films. For example, the charlatans who appear in Bab el-Oued City (1993) and especially in The Rooftops (2013) are direct descendants of the religious tricksters in Adventures of a Hero. The film features self-appointed imams using religion to trick the villagers into donating money and valuable items. They manage to do so by conspiring with the local notables who in turn lie and ensnare their own people.21 The story is reminiscent of the peregrination tales of Djeha, a mythical figure in Maghrebian oral tradition,22 whose wit and shrewdness crossed several regions and centuries. Djeha then is the archetype of Mehdi, the protagonist designated as the hero and savior-figure of his tribe. He was given the divine-like mission by the village notables to transform his community. First, they make it seem as though he was chosen for this

From Cinema Mudjahid to Cinema Jdid


mission at birth. Then, they hire a charlatan to teach him knowledge. When he reaches adulthood, they offer him a motorbike and ask him to go discover the world and return home when he is ready to fulfill his duty. Through Mehdi’s journey, the viewer discovers the reality of Algeria and the prevalent problems of that time. Adventures of a Hero is a road movie, which contains several reflections on politics, social life, religion, and even philosophy. In fact, it was the time of Boumédiène’s regime, which was known for political rigidity and harsh treatment of dissidents. In one scene, a customs officer tells Mehdi: “D’abord, il ne faut pas parler. Ici, on n’aime pas ça.” (“First, you should not talk. We don’t like that here”). In a subsequent scene, he is even asked to show a certificate proving his apolitical nature (certificate d’apolitisme). One must not forget that political activists and dissidents at that time were quickly silenced and imprisoned, if not killed. These are all reflections about the political situation of the time. In fact, in order to understand these messages, the viewer not only has to “read between the lines” but also keep an eye on the different slogans and signs in the film. In one of the final scenes, a sign says: “Vive le débat démocratique” (“Long live the democratic debate”). In a different scene, one character declares: “Dans un pays, ça se discute!” (“Discussion is important in society! ”). “Tu sais c’est quoi un pays?” (“Do you know what a country means?”). These references find echo in the political atmosphere of the time when intellectuals and artists started questioning the government, its legitimacy, its nature, and even nation-building as a political concept. Intellectual references also abound in this film not for the sake of aesthetics but to back up some of the movie’s allusions. The Confucius quotation, for instance, “when a wise man points at the moon, the imbecile sees the finger” is meant as an attack on the prevailing mentality of the time. Similarly, a character says: “Vous vivez repliés sur vous-mêmes. Ouvrez-vous au monde.” (“You live cloistered among yourselves. Open


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yourselves to the world”). These remarks are most likely aimed at the Algerian people. It was also a time of excessive bureaucracy. Immediately after leaving his village, Mehdi arrives at several police barricades and each time the officer asks him for his papers and for money, which is a criticism of the rising corruption in administrative circles. This topic resurfaces again in many of Allouache’s films. In Bab el-Oued City, Mess must wait a very long time before he gets his lost passport renewed so he can go back to France. During his stay in Bab el-Oued, when Mess has nowhere to go, the bullying Islamists offer him help but force Mess to join their group against his will. In the 2011 film, Normal!, the group of young filmmakers must jump bureaucratic hurdles to have their play approved by the authorities. Ironically, it is the character of the madman in Adventures of a Hero who tells the truth and who seems the most normal of all. He is similar to the character of the insane old man in The Rooftops who, as we shall see in chapter 5, incarnates the historical truth. These two characters are marginalized by their society, but they are the anti-heroes who resist the lies and the hypocrisy of both the government and the people. Adventures of a Hero continues with the depiction of the housing issue in Omar Gatlato and shows the extremely poor conditions in the slums. When Mehdi arrives in Algiers, he lives for a short period in a section of town filled with rundown shacks. These scenes are by no means accidental. Allouache purposely raises this crucial topic and even foreshadows its portrayal in his 2015 film Madame Courage. Last, but not least, Allouache uses this opportunity to insert some of his questions and reflections on cinema and its role in society. One character says: “La télévision ne doit pas tuer le cinéma” (“Television must not kill cinema”) and “le cinéma a de l’avenir” (“cinema has a future”). Allouache continued this debate in his following film The Man Who Looked at Windows (1982) and, to a large extent, in his film Normal! (2011).

From Cinema Mudjahid to Cinema Jdid


According to Allouache, Adventures of a Hero was meant to be made in the language of oral storytelling in Algeria, but he realized that this medium and the cinematic language are not that compatible. He later confirmed this particular point in an interview: “I can’t deny its [A Thousand and One Nights’] influence, but I’ve been inspired more by popular local characters like Djeha.”23 After two feature films, Allouache decided to make a third one in the same vein using a low budget, mostly nonprofessional actors, and subtle sociopolitical commentary. This film, however, is peculiar because it includes fantasy, psychological dimensions, and very subtle sociopolitical, cultural, and economic underpinnings. The Man Who Looked at Windows faced harsh criticism. The press in particular accused it of being elitist. The Man Who Looked at Windows is the story of Rachid, a middle-aged man, who is, apparently, not happy with his life. He is questioned by a police officer about the reasons why he killed his former supervisor. Through flashbacks, the protagonist reveals the various causes of his psychological downfall. His disappointment with almost everything expresses the filmmaker’s own questioning of the sociopolitical situation of Algeria two decades after Independence. The Man Who Looked at Windows also includes a mise-en-abîme. Like Adventures of a Hero, this film raises several questions about cinema itself. The main character, who narrates the story, says: I’ll never understand why there are books about cinema… Books are books and cinema is cinema. So why mix them up? Books tell stories with writing, with words and sentences…cinema narrates with images and actors… I don’t know… It’s not the same, is it? In another scene, the narrator continues his analysis of cinema with this provocative statement: “Ces débiles qui passaient leur journée à lire des livres sur le cinéma. Ils feraient mieux d’aller au cinéma.” (“These idiots who spent their days reading books on cinema. They would do better by going to movie theaters.”) It is also safe to believe that this film is the only one in which Allouache took full liberty to experiment with


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his ideas on filmmaking. This daring approach made the film opaque, strange, and confusing to audiences and critics, some of which even complained about the fact that the government had funded such films. This film closes the first cycle of Allouache’s cinematography, which includes Omar Gatlato, Adventures of a Hero, and The Man Who Looked at Windows. While the first one was successful, the other two have been considered artistic failures, even by Allouache himself. Both films allowed him, however, to test his ideas and to search for his filmmaking style. In 1982, once again, Allouache left Algeria and moved back to Paris for another relatively short self-imposed exile. This temporary stay allowed him to make Un Amour à Paris (1986), which I consider as an outlier in his filmography. To maintain thematic coherence, I prefer to include my analysis of this film in chapter 3 on emigration and immigration along with Salut Cousin!, Chouchou, and Tata Bakhta. In the next chapter, however, I explain how Algeria took a wrong turn in the 1990s when the entire country plunged into a decade of terror and horrific violence.

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Notes 1. Cited in Armes, Roy, Omar Gatlato. Trowbridge: Flicks Books, 1998, p. 1. 2. This expression means the move from a cinema that celebrates the Algerian Revolution to a new type of cinema, which, in the case of Merzak Allouache, could be called social or neorealist. 3. Fanon, Frantz, The Wretched of the Earth. New York, Grove Press, p. 169. 4. Ahmed Bedjaoui shared with me that while the government incessantly imposed films about the Algerian Revolution on the people, Boumédiène himself enjoyed Hollywood movies. 5. Bedjaoui, Ahmed. Cinéma et guerre de libération. Algérie, des batailles d’images. Alger: Editions Chihab, 2014. 6. Bedjaoui also argued that this early state cinema has been handicapped by the tendency for overglorification and the portrayal of the people as “the only hero.” In the past few years, however, we notice that Algerian state productions shifted their focus from the “people as the sole hero” to individual heroes.  This recent tendency may also be interpreted as an attempt by this regime to legitimate its long reign by advocating a historical legitimacy, supposedly built early on by individual heroes. 7. See my interview “Tourner le dos à notre histoire antique est un crime,” El Watan, October 17, 2016. 8. Allouache does not hide his regret for making Nahnu Wa al-Thawra alZiraiyya (Us and The Agricultural Revolution), a documentary in which he praised the government’s socialist ideals and practices. 9. I grew up in Kabylia, a region distinct from the others in terms of language, customs, practices, and social attitudes, among other traits, but the film resonated among the Kabyle youths, as well. 10. Armes, Roy. Omar Gatlato. Trowbridge, Flicks Books, 1998, p. 9. 11. Ibid., p. 10. 12. The Family Code, passed on June 9, I984, is mainly based on Islamic (sharia) law and established patriarchal authority. This law immediately affected women's rights in terms of marriage, divorce, child custody, and inheritance, among other matters. For a detailed description see my short article on women in Algeria in Women's Lives around the World: A Global Encyclopedia. General Editor: Susan Shaw. ABC-CLIO Greenwood, pp. 11–18.


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13. Djebar, Assia. Women of Algiers in Their Apartment. University of Virginia Press, 1999. (Translated by Marjolijn de Jager, Afterword by Clarisse Zimra). 14. The Nouba of the Women of Mount Chenoua (Assia Djebar, dir., Algeria, 1977). 15. Armes, Roy. Postcolonial Images. Studies in North African Film. Bloomington, Indiana University Press, 2005, p.106. 16. Ibid., p. 105. 17. Daoud, Kamel. “The Sexual Misery of the Arab World”, The New York Times, Feb 12, 2016. sunday/the-sexual-misery-of-the-arab-world.html?_r=0 18. #sthash.rialk1Y6.dpuf 19. It is a creole form of Arabic, mixed with French and Berber. It is completely different from the Arabic spoken in the Middle East. See Alek Toumi’s Creolized North Africa: What do they really speak in the Maghreb? French Cultural Studies: Criticism at the Crossroads, SUNY Press, pp. 69–80, June 2000. 20. “The necessity of a cinema which interrogates everyday life” (interview with Merzak Allouache). Film and politics in the Third World. Edited by John D.H. Downing, New York: Praeger Publishers, 1987. 21. This practice has also been developed by Ousmane Sembène in his epic film, Ceddo (1977). 22. Djeha has also inspired writers, such as the celebrated Kateb Yacine, whose play La Poudre d’intelligence (The Intelligence Powder) is a satirical critique of both religious fanatics and government officials. 23. “The necessity of a cinema which interrogates everyday life.” Interview with Allouache by Berrah/Ben Salama. Film and politics in the Third World. Edited by John D.H. Downing, New York: Praeger Publishers, 1987.

Chapter 2

The Rise of Islamic Fundamentalism and the Subsequent Whirlwind of Violence The violence in Algeria is not Algeria’s alone. It is a drama with an international dimension. One has the impression that it is a violence that marks the end of our century. —Merzak Allouache Violence can only be concealed by a lie, and the lie can only be maintained by violence. —Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn This chapter analyzes the issue of Islamic fundamentalism and its violence during the bloody period known in Algeria as the “Dark Decade.” The award-winning film Bab el-Oued City (1993) opens another cycle of filmmaking by announcing this violence whereas The Other World (2001)


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transports viewers into the eye of the storm and depicts the horrors of this tragic decade. The latter also closes this cycle since the Dark Decade ended around 2000 when Abdelaziz Bouteflika’s government implemented the reconciliation policy, even though one might argue that this reconciliation reduced the violence but did not stop it. In fact, terrorism in Algeria, however sporadic, has continued until today. This chapter also discusses one telefilm and three documentaries by Allouache that also portray the horrors of Islamist1 violence. The first documentary, Vie et mort des journalistes algériens (Life and Death of Algerian Journalists, 1998), shows the swift changes in Algeria immediately after the violent government repression of the population in October 1988. It narrates the outset of a period marked by threats against the journalists and shows how they tried to resist and carry on their professional duties. The second documentary, L’Algérie en Democratie. Femmes en Mouvements (Algeria in Democracy. Women in Action, 1991), also deals with the same time period but focuses on women and their struggles against multiple pressures, coming from both the Conservatives in power and the Islamists. The third documentary, Jours Tranquilles en Kabylie (Quiet Days in Kabylia, 1994), was shot one year after the beginning of the civil war and narrates the atmosphere of terror, fear, and anxiety that was gradually penetrating Kabylia, a Berber-speaking region located approximately sixty miles east of the capital city of Algiers. Finally, while residing in France during the Dark Decade, Allouache was approached by the Franco-German television network ARTE to make his 1998 telefilm Alger-Beyrouth: Pour mémoire (Algiers-Beirut: A Souvenir). An analysis of these films and documentaries will shed light on the Islamist violence and on the ways in which it was carried out.

Contextual Background The 1990s generated one of the most tragic periods in Algeria’s history. It is estimated that as a result of the government’s cancellation of the national elections in 1991, which the FIS (Islamic Salvation Front) was

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about to win, 200,000 people died during what is known as the “Dark Decade.” As a retaliation against the government’s defiance, the Islamists took up arms and started a civil war that lasted until early 2000. Most victims were men, but children and women, particularly those leading Western lifestyles, also suffered from rape, kidnapping, and murder. In addition, most of the men who died or disappeared during this decade left behind widows and children, most of whom were left without any resources or protection. This tragic decade had immediate effects on Algerian society, which would, unfortunately, continue to perpetuate in the years to come. This chapter aims to show the context that led up to this conflict and the resulting violence. I will also highlight some of the underpinnings of this tragedy and illustrate its effects on Algerian society, on both the individual and the collective levels. The genesis of this Dark Decade began in the 1970s when social and economic conditions started to deteriorate. In addition to a huge demographic explosion, there was massive unemployment, a lack of infrastructure, grinding poverty, corruption under Chadli Bendjedid in the 1980s, and a strong desire for democracy and freedom of speech. The FLN (National Liberation Front), the ruling party since independence in 1962, was not only unable to cope with these issues but was also very harsh on the opposition. Resistance leaders, journalists, intellectuals, and minorities (such as Berbers and women) faced atrocious consequences, including jail sentences, disappearance, and even death. The fall of oil and gas prices in the 1980s and early 1990s weakened the government and complicated the situation. Therefore, young people, especially in urban areas, started to attend sermons by radicalized clerics who promised them everything they demanded, including the abolition of military service. While the radicalized youth were a minority in the late 1970s and the 1980s and existed mostly only on university campuses, the early 1990s saw a huge increase in their numbers, particularly in disenfranchised neighborhoods such as Bab el-Oued.


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In the 1980s, aside from women activists and a few intellectuals such as Kateb Yacine, Rachid Mimouni, and Tahar Djaout, nobody seemed bothered by the presence of the Muslim brotherhood (called Les Frères Musulmans).2 Their creation actually dates back to earlier decades when the Algerian government used them as a force to counter the liberal and democratic opposition. Because they lay mostly dormant for some time, no one suspected they would become a monster—one that pulled the rug out from under society as a whole, including the government, the military, the intellectual elites, and ordinary citizens. The damage on Algerian society has been far greater than what one would expect. The reconfiguration of Algerian identity by the Islamists is, in my view, one of the most tragic consequences of this Arabo-Islamist ideology. For Islamists in general, identity starts with Islam. Religion is not a personal and spiritual quest anymore but now becomes an identity. Half a century ago, most Algerians could easily make a distinction between spirituality, identity, society, nation, history, and so forth. Not anymore as there is now a generalized confusion between all these concepts, tainted with a severe form of intolerance particularly towards non-believers. In one of his recent newspaper articles, Kamel Daoud explains clearly how the Islamists are pernicious in their re-appropriation of “the national narrative of the war of independence.”3 “Strangely, he adds, identity becomes a religious identity and takes history as hostage.” In other words, this revisionist approach turns the Algerian war of independence into a religious war when in reality it was simply a war of liberation, a people’s struggle against colonialism.

1988: A Birth of Democracy or a Curse in Disguise? After the riots of October 5, 1988, and the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, Algeria was led into a democratic change, marked by the mushrooming of dozens of different political parties. It was in that context that the FIS (Islamic Front of Salvation) was created by Abbassi Madani and

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Ali Belhadj. To the surprise of both the general population and the government, this party gathered millions of followers from around the country. In the 1991 elections, the Islamic Salvation Front was about to defeat the ruling party (the FLN). To avert this, the military regime cancelled the elections after the first round and forced then-president Chadli Bendjedid to resign from office. The government then banned the FIS and jailed thousands of its members, including the two major leaders, Abbassi Madani and Ali Belhadj. In retaliation, the Islamist opposition went underground and organized itself into several armed groups, including the Armed Islamic Movement (MIA), the Islamic Salvation Army (AIS), and an extremely violent branch, the Islamic Armed Group (GIA). Following the ousting of President Chadli Bendjedid and a short interim period, during which a small group of FLN leaders and generals took control of the government, Mohamed Boudiaf, one of the heroes of the Algerian Revolution and a member of the original 1954 FLN (National Liberation Front), was invited to serve as the head of state. Less than a year later, he was assassinated during a live televised speech. The circumstances around his assassination remain unclear today. The tactics of the Islamist insurgents consisted of attacking all symbols of the government: police stations, government buildings, military barracks, and anyone who voiced support for the government. The most tragic part of this conflict was the indiscriminate targeting of civilians and foreigners. Entire villages were razed, thousands of innocent people disappeared, in addition to the hundreds of young women who were kidnapped and then raped by the emirs (the commanders). Furthermore, the killing of Francophone intellectuals, artists, singers, university professors, playwrights, and journalists occurred almost on a daily basis. Basically, the insurgents targeted not just the government but also any civilian who was suspected of not fitting the Islamist mold. In most cases, however, it was not—and still is not— clear as to who committed these crimes. Some NGOs, for example, suspect and even


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accuse the government, arguing that committing such crimes in the name of the Islamists would disparage their image and hence win over the hearts and minds of the population (and of the international community). The infiltration of some of the insurgent groups by government agents makes the issue even more confusing. A quarter of a century later, this mystery remains open and unresolved. 

Bab el-Oued City: The Birth of an Islamist Frankenstein Several filmmakers from Algeria made films based on this tragic Dark Decade, but none of them has focused on its outset as did Allouache in his Bab el-Oued City (1993). In fact, the entire film revolves around the swift rise of Islamist violence in Algeria. Most importantly, Allouache was making this film as the events were unfolding. According to him, the threat of violence was so real that he never shot scenes in the same location twice, nor did he share the script with anyone, including his own crew. Some of the actors quit at the last moment out of fear. To minimize the risks, Allouache decided to shoot some of the scenes in Béjaïa, a coastal city located about 150 miles east of Algiers. “You had to get it right the first time—and fast,” he told an interviewer, referring to the multiple risks in shooting films at that time. He later published the story as a novel, titled Bab el-Oued,4 which includes some of the scenes that he could not add to the film because of logistical constraints. “I wrote this book,” he said, “to exorcise the many frustrations that arose when making the film Bab el-Oued City in Algiers. Writing the book gave me a sense of freedom not possible given the constraints of the camera, especially when shooting in a hostile environment, as was the case there.”5 Through this novel, Merzak also wanted to further develop some of the themes and characters introduced in the film. Despite the difficulties in making the film, Bab el-Oued City turned out to be a huge critical success, winning the International Critics’ Prize at Cannes in 1994 and the Grand Prize at the 1994 Arab Film Festival in Paris.

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Some critics even believe that Bab-el-Oued City remains Allouache’s best film to date.

Synopsis and Analysis Bab el-Oued City opens with Yamina, a young woman, writing a letter to her lover, Boualem. It has been three years since he left the country. An extended flashback then takes viewers to the very beginning of the story, zooming in on Boualem, a young man who works night shifts in a bakery in the local neighborhood of Bab el-Oued. When he finally goes home in the wee hours to sleep, he becomes bothered by the muezzin’s call for prayer and by the long and monotonous religious sermons on Fridays. To make matters worse, the loudspeaker from the local mosque happens to be on the rooftop of his apartment building. Finally, Boualem loses his patience, so he tears down the loudspeaker and throws it into the sea. Besides feeling some guilt for desecrating the property of the mosque, Boualem quickly realizes that he has become the target of a small group of young Islamic fundamentalist thugs who use this theft of the loudspeaker as an opportunity to expand their authority and terrorize the entire neighborhood. On many occasions, they bother young people who are simply listening to music while contemplating the sea, which they dream to cross someday in order to start a new life somewhere in Europe. In one key scene, viewers see one member of the Islamist gang in an attempt to brainwash teenagers by telling them stories of his heroic exploits in Afghanistan when Algerians joined the coalition of forces against the Soviet incursion in the early 1980s.6 In their eyes, it was a holy fight between Muslims and the communist infidels. This Islamist then predicts the day when weapons will come to Algiers, and that order will be restored via the imposition of a more radical Islam. In another scene, the gang’s leader, Saïd, is applying kohl to his eyes, a practice these religious bigots had learned in Afghanistan during their combat years. This ritual is obviously a way to make himself


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appear more charismatic and dominating during the bullying raids on innocent people. Viewers eventually realize that Saïd is receiving his orders from two mysterious men in a BMW whom Allouache deliberately keeps unidentified throughout the film. While one cannot know for sure whether they belong to the government (le Pouvoir) or to the Algerian “mafia,” it becomes obvious that they— and Saïd’s gang—belong to a much larger conspiracy, which is about to bring dramatic change to the entire country.7 When asked about the identity of these mysterious men in interviews, Allouache did not venture any explanation, leaving viewers to judge for themselves. Saïd is also Yamina’s older brother and as such he not only brutalizes her but also prevents her from going out. In one scene, he berates and even hits her for simply spending time at her window, looking at the outside world. The climax is reached when he discovers that she and Boualem are dating, and that they meet discretely in a Christian cemetery, a place where, in Boualem’s words, one can find a bit of solitude and freedom. Allouache seizes this opportunity, once again, to take on the issue of male and female relationships. While this might seem trivial and even irrelevant to Western audiences, this topic lies at the heart of Algerian society and the Muslim world at large. In this particular scene, Boualem begs Yamina to remove her headscarf so he can see her hair. The scarf epitomizes the entire weight of religious conservatism and tradition, which led both young men and women to have more feelings of paranoia, claustrophobia, repressed violence, and a longing for escape. I will develop this particular theme in the next chapter on emigration, but first I will examine briefly how this desire to leave the country manifests itself in different types of characters in Bab el-Oued City.

Longing for Escape The characters in Bab el-Oued City do not yet know that extreme violence is fast approaching, but they—just like the viewers—sense that things are not the same anymore and that change is unavoidable. The early

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1990s were a period of departure and exile. Intellectuals, artists, and ordinary citizens, particularly the youth, were leaving the country en masse. Boualem talks to his younger brother about his plan to go to France and promises to send him money so he can also leave. Boualem eventually leaves for France with the promise to send for Yamina to join him. His co-worker, Mabrouk, aspires to leave as well. To this end, he sells things on the black market in order to afford his ticket to freedom. But, it is also true of Mess, a young Algerian raised in France, who not only finds himself stuck in Algeria but also sucked into Said’s gang. Mess plans to get a new passport at the French embassy and go back to France. In the meantime, his only means of survival is Saïd’s gang, which provides him with food and lodging. Another aspect of the desire to escape could be noticed in the female character, Ouardya. From her discussions with Boualem, we deduce that she was once drawn to revolutionary and socialist ideals but then could only watch helplessly as those ideals gave way to compromise, corruption, and now fundamentalism. However, instead of leaving the country, she has taken refuge in alcohol and seclusion. In contrast to these suffocating spaces, namely the streets of Bab el-Oued and Ouardya’s room, Boualem spends some time in other local places where people go for fresh air. For example, the beaches of Algiers (so well described by Albert Camus in his lyrical essays8) are presented in this film as a refuge where young adults can enjoy some pleasures such as swimming and looking at boats that connect the two sides of the Mediterranean. Similar scenes are also noticeable in The Other World as we shall see later in this chapter. Rooftops are another space where young women hang out since most of them cannot go out. These rooftop-spaces are reserved for women where they can take off their veils and feel free of inhibitions. In one particular scene, some young women are talking about the romance novels that they pass around among themselves. These novels, known as harlequins, seem to provide them with a sense of joy and pleasure, which they cannot find in their everyday life.


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For the film director, however, there is a reverse kind of longing. Allouache senses a feeling of nostalgia for the lost homeland and for the lost period of opportunities when the country could have easily secured a prosperous and enviable position. This particular point is perhaps one of the most important reasons behind the writing of this book. Simply put, it is difficult to make sense of Algeria’s unfortunate situation when the country has all sorts of resources to create a prosperous and peaceful nation. The filmmaker manages to show not only this sense of yearning and nostalgia but also the atmosphere of a society on the verge of slipping into something terrible. In addition, he paints a complex portrait of the religious bigots, who are manipulating the situation for selfish ends. The compassionate, humanitarian neighborhood imam can do little to stop the tide of violence, and he knows it. Fundamentalists reveal themselves to be rife with hypocrisy and a mad fascination with power. In a way, these characters represent the eventual transition from the fundamentalism of the Islamic Salvation Front (FIS) to the terror of its armed branch, the Armed Islamic Group (GIA). Jacob Mundy is right in stating that: “the Boualem-Saïd conflict becomes a parable for the entire nation”9 because it represents a split in society between the Algerian population and the Islamist fringe, which, up until the late 1980s, was a minority without much power or threat. Ironically, the Islamists were mostly a by-product in the late 1970s when the government’s intelligence service saw them as a tool to counter the liberals, particularly those in university circles. Bab el-Oued City is a microcosmic example of what actually happened in the country since then. The true representatives of Islam have been sidelined by pseudo-Muslim preachers with different plans. It is for this reason that Allouache depicts the Imam in the local mosque as the true interpreter of Islam. “He [the imam],” according to David McMurray, “predates the coming of the goons and their attempt to seize power locally.”10 Unfortunately, despite the dissolution of the

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FIS and the bittersweet ending of the civil war in the early 2000s, the tolerant Islam of the previous generations has been supplanted by a more radical and political Islam. In fact, the last chapter of this book, which includes Allouache’s latest documentary Investigating Paradise, deals with the impact of the Salafist and Wahhabist discourses on Algerian contemporary society.

The Government’s Repression of Dissidents In Bab el-Oued City, Allouache tackles the issue of political dissidents and their repression by the authorities since independence in 1962. This topic is well illustrated by Ouardya, the reclusive woman whom Boualem befriends and for whom he regularly buys wine because she chooses not to leave her apartment. In a poignant scene, she recounts to Boualem what happened to her: It has been a long time since I was a student, but back then, we believed in many wonderful things. Marxism, Third Worldism, revolution. We were all “mobilized” as they used to say. All of our energies went into the people. The country was new and the student movement was powerful. We were romantics and I was in love. He was an incredible guy. Obsessed by politics. He belonged to a group that wanted to save the world. But then one day, we were arrested and thrown into prison—all of us, without exception. We spent nine days in prison. Thanks to my father, they released me. He didn’t have anyone like that. He disappeared. Never a word. Something broke at that moment. Life made no more sense. After that, I just wanted to sleep. Just sleep. The government killed all hope for her to find her lover. It was common practice to make dissidents disappear. Those who had connections, as was the case with Ouardya’s father, could intervene. Others, the commoners, underwent torture and “disappearance.” Ironically, the topic of dictatorship and repression is brought up again by the police detective in the 2013 film The Rooftops. In a conversation with his son-in-law, he


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admits that he too once believed in equality, resistance, and Marxism, but that he is now, just like Ouardya, resigned to what happened. He ends his story with the following: “We wanted to change the country, and it is the country that changed us.” Both the detective and Ouardya are alter egos of Merzak Allouache, whose trajectory was obviously different, but he shared the same political aspirations and beliefs during his youth in Algeria.11

Quiet Days in Kabylia: The Last Stronghold of Resistance In 1994, only a year after Bab el-Oued City, Allouache made a documentary for the TV channels La Sept and ARTE titled Jours tranquilles en Kabylie (Quiet Days in Kabylia). At a moment when this region, Kabylia, faced scorn and marginalization, particularly from the government and the Islamists, Allouache took his camera there in an effort to show the heartbeat of this region at the onset of the Dark Decade. In his documentary, Allouache explains how this region is peculiar and how it was, at that particular moment, trying to navigate between the violence of the Islamists on one hand and the authoritarian military regime on the other. This region has long been known as a stronghold of resistance, during both colonial and post-colonial eras. During French colonialism, Kabylia was the site of several major events and revolts, including Fadhma N’Soumer’s rebellion (1857), Sheikh Belhadad and Mokrani’s revolts (1871), the Soummam Congress (1956), and Colonel Amirouche’s campaigns (1954–59). Immediately following independence in 1962, Hocine Aït Ahmed, one of the local heroes of the Algerian Revolution, took up arms against the FLN’s tyranny and fraudulent taking of power in 1963. In 1980, the entire region again suffered terrible repression by the military regime following the riots, which were triggered by the cancellation of a conference on ancient Kabyle poetry in Tizi Ouzou by the celebrated Algerian writer Mouloud Mammeri.

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In this documentary, Allouache is not simply trying to understand the situation of Kabylia in the context of the Algerian civil war, but he seems interested in exploring all aspects of Kabyle society, by allowing different people from all categories to express themselves and share insights about this unique region. In reality, Allouache is showing what this region is all about to the non-Kabyle Algerians who had, for decades, been fed by the authorities with all sorts of stereotypes and negative clichés. Jours tranquilles en Kabylie is composed of two parts. The first half provides a panoramic view of the region with some glimpses of its social, cultural, economic, and political life. The second part features Matoub Lounès, a famous Kabyle, poet, singer, and activist.12 He was assassinated in June 1998 because of his long opposition to both the Islamists and the authoritarian regime. The film starts with the entry by car into this region, through its magnificent landscape, accompanied by the music of the world-renowned Kabyle singer Idir. We then see people going about their daily life as if everything was normal, until we hear the interviews with some prominent figures from the region. Saïd Tazrout, editor-inchief of the daily, Le Pays, warns that despite what people might think, Islamists are also in Kabylia and constitute a dangerous presence. He then explains that the editorial mission of his newspaper is to defend democracy and modernity against the archaic values of the Islamists who are putting forth the other societal project. He ends by saying that the protection of the Berber language and culture goes hand-in-hand with the fight for modernity and democracy. Furthermore, this film includes several references to Kabyle protest song which is the signature of this indomitable region. Aside from the portraits of Idir and Aït Menguellet, the viewer also catches a glimpse of Ali, lead singer of the band Ideflawen on stage during a Ramadhan evening, singing a well-known political song. The music of the renowned singer Ferhat, as well as the enchanting voice of Taos Amrouche, serve as background music for selected sequences.


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The Whistle Blowers Quiet Days in Kabylia features some local activists who blew the whistle early on and warned about the coming of the Islamist danger. El Hadi Aït Ouali, President of the Si Muhand ou M’hand Association, explains that the population of Kabylia is being very careful about the civil war, which started in the country’s capital of Algiers but is on the verge of spreading to other parts of the country. The Islamist political parties, FIS (Islamic Front of Salvation), Nahdha, and Hamas, have always been since their creation in 1989 opposed to Berber language and identity. They saw in its revival a threat to the dominant Arabic, which, in their eyes, is more prestigious because “it is the language of the Koran.” After many decades of protest against the government’s diglossic and exclusivist policies vis-à-vis Berber language and identity, Kabyle activists are aware that they now have to fight another enemy and threat to their culture: the Islamists. Another sequence features young women working in a clothing factory. The filmmaker, who wants to highlight the secular and progressive aspects of this region, interviews a few of these young women and asks them to explain why they felt free to work and not wear a veil. Their immediate response is that women in this region are not victims of misogyny and discrimination. Malika Belaidi, a member of the feminist association La Citoyenne, adds that the drastic economic situation also led to the need for them to work in order to support their families. She then explains how the Kabyles are very vigilant, always keeping watch in their respective villages against the intrusion of terrorists, as has been the case, she contends, throughout history. Samiha Rahma, with the same association, makes the bold statement that the educational system “does not educate” but instead “produces terrorists.” History has proved her right. The school system has also deteriorated since the late 1980s. The Arabization policies, imposed decades ago, along with the gradual Islamization of

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schools and of society, have indeed led to a swift decline in the quality of education in both K–12 schools and universities. The documentary also features sequences that commemorate important figures from Kabylia, most of whom were targets and fell victim to terrorist attacks. One such individual is Rachid Tigzirine, a long-standing member of the MCB (Berber Cultural Movement) and a major force in the RCD (Rally for Culture and Democracy). Another local hero was Tahar Djaout, a respected francophone literary figure. Saïd Khelil, one of the leaders of the FFS (Socialist Forces Front), lashes out against the government, which he accuses of remaining passive in the face of these atrocities. He then shares his concerns about a more somber future. Unfortunately, his prediction became reality, as thousands of Algerians have lost their lives since 1994. Allouache then takes his camera to the village of Ath Yenni, hometown of the celebrated Algerian francophone writer and symbol of the Berber culture, Mouloud Mammeri. The camera shows the thousands of people who came from all over the country to commemorate the fifth anniversary of his death. A village man explains that people gather each year to celebrate the anniversary as a way of saying that Mouloud Mammeri is still alive. The second part of the documentary focuses on the late legendary Berber singer Matoub Lounès who was assassinated four years later in June 1998 when he was only forty-two. Matoub spoke out against the government’s falsification of history and its denial of Berber language and culture. He also advocated for a decentralized political system whereby each region in the country should run its own affairs, based on its needs, desires, and cultural values. Matoub believed there was no reason to live under the control of an alienating authority, be it the government or the Islamists. Recently, decentralization has been the topic of heated debates and put forth as a viable political solution by several activists and political groups, particularly the MAK (The Movement for the Autonomy of Kabylia).


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The discussion between Matoub and his guests after the interview centers on the necessity for religious and ethnic diversity in Algeria. One guest reminds everyone that there are still a few Jews and Christians in the country. He later adds that some Kabyle villages started witnessing new converts to Christianity and that their safety was not guaranteed in that particular context of the Dark Decade. Regarding religion, Matoub in turn explains that he has the right not to be Muslim since it is an individual question and one of faith. Unfortunately, taking this brave and honest stand was one of the last nails in his coffin. The documentary ends with Matoub Lounès’ song in which he consoles Kenza, the young daughter of the assassinated writer-journalist Tahar Djaout. This song encapsulates the entire tragedy of contemporary Algeria: Kenza The sky darkens, rivers are cresting, flooding The rain washes steps, streets and houses Rivers groan in agony while Earth and silt collapse deeply Out of the tombstone a prayer rises Shouting within its pain: Oh my children! Even if the corpse disappears Both thought and soul never die If the high passes are hard to cross In our exhaustion solace will certainly be found

The Rise of Islamic Fundamentalism If they extinguish such a number of bright stars The sky will, all the same, not be weakened They have for millennia sealed our fate Well before these hellish tragic days The persecutors of knowledge Spread intolerance and desolation They have killed Rachid Tigziri, Boucebci Smaïl, Liabès and Flici Even if there was only one survivor standing His memory would contain the injured past The wounds will slowly heal We will stand again among the nations Our progeny will increase and become stronger If only in the wind vane of misfortune Kenza my daughter, Endure my grieving. We fall sacrificially For tomorrow’s Algeria. Kenza my daughter, Do not cry.



Algeria on Screen Kenza my daughter, Do not cry. The reason for your father’s death Is tomorrow’s Algeria. Kenza my daughter, Do not cry. (Matoub Lounès)13

Life and Death of Algerian Journalists: The First Victims While in Paris Allouache had the privilege and opportunity to continue making films, and in 1995, only one year after he settled there, he made Salut Cousin! followed in 1997 by the documentary Life and Death of Algerian Journalists. Life and Death is set in the years preceding the civil war of the 1990s and examines the impact of the free press movement in Algeria. It allows viewers to better understand the context in which journalists of all ideologies were preparing themselves for the swift democratic changes that were about to take place. The footage of this film was shot in 1988 and 1989, but it was not used in the documentary until one decade later. Allouache made this film as an homage to the dozens of journalists who lost their lives in the 1990s. In one of his interviews, Allouache explains: Pour Vie et mort des journalistes algériens, c’était plus une envie de témoigner, de façon subjective, de leur rendre hommage, eux qui étaient particulièrement touchés par la violence. C’était un film presque militant. Comme un engagement.14 As far as Life and Death of Algerian Journalists, it was more of a desire to witness, in a subjective way, to pay homage to the

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journalists, who were particularly targeted by this violence. It was almost a militant film. Like a film engagé. Journalists have always placed themselves at the front line and that is why they are the first victims. In the context of Algeria in the late 1980s and throughout the 1990s, independent journalists were fighting on two fronts: the regime, called le Pouvoir, on one hand and the Islamists on the other. Aside from being a tribute to their dedication and courage, this documentary film is also a genealogical inquiry to explain the entire tragedy from its beginning. The film starts with the riots of October 5, 1988, in Algiers, which resulted in the deaths of more than five hundred young people and injuries to thousands of others. Because of rising prices, high unemployment, and the drastic austerity measures announced by the government, thousands of young people launched street demonstrations that lasted an entire week, first in Algiers and then in some other major cities. The riots, which the government repressed with extreme violence, indirectly led to the fall of the one-party system, represented by the FLN since 1962. They constituted what was in fact the first “Arab Spring,” which was a consequence of April 1980 but did not receive enough coverage by the international press at that time to be considered as such.15 In any case, these events were followed by a democratic reform, which gave way to a brief period of democracy and pluralism:16 dozens of political parties were born, several independent newspapers were created, political dissidents in exile were allowed to return home (Hocine Aït Ahmed being the most well-known figure), and feminist associations mushroomed, among many other positive developments. But, it was also in that context that the Islamic Front of Salvation (known as FIS) was founded and recognized by the government as an official party. This party, led by Abbassi Madani—a former member of the FLN party—and Ali Belhadj, would the following year (1990) win the first free local elections. In early 1992, the FIS was about to win the national parliamentary elections, but the government cancelled the second round and forced President Chadli Bendjedid to resign. So, while this short period of transition allowed democratic reform to take place, it


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also planted the seeds of the tragic conflict that would paralyze Algeria for years to come. Between the October 1988 riots and the implementation of multiple changes, the free press movement, known as “Mouvement des Journalistes Algériens” (Algerian Journalists Movement), worked hard for the transition to democracy and pluralism. It was a pivotal period for the journalists as they felt it was incumbent on them to seize the window of opportunity and speed up the democratic change. Allouache’s documentary features some of their initiatives, such as the pacifist march and their secret debates about the action plan. The viewer notices a sense of anxiety and suspicion among the journalists because it was obvious that the government was manipulating their movement, as it did with most of the resistance movements before and after theirs.17 Some scenes feature important journalists who would, unfortunately, be assassinated a few years later—for example Saïd Mekbel and Tahar Djaout. Since some of the interviews were conducted years after the fact; one prominent journalist, Aziouz Mokhtari, made the revelation that “Djaout bothered the state” and that terrorism masked “the real problem.” These details obviously alluded to the government’s retaliation practices. Another sequence traces the rebirth of the celebrated daily newspaper Alger Républicain, for which Albert Camus worked in the 1930s. Kateb Yacine and Mohammed Dib, two of Algeria’s most distinguished writers, also worked for this leftist and liberal newspaper in the early 1950s. Unfortunately, in the midst of the civil war, this newspaper disappeared again in 1994. While this documentary is rather somber, it contains the humor and the astute sarcasm, so characteristic of Algerian journalists. For instance to mock the FLN’s newspaper El Moudjahid, which had dominated the press since independence in 1962, these journalists lampooned by calling it “El Moudjavide”, which means “empty.”

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Femmes en Mouvements (Women in Action): Algerian feminism on camera It is precisely in this context of democratization that Allouache made a documentary titled Femmes en Mouvements in 1991. The film starts with a poem by the world-renowned Algerian writer Assia Djebar. The poem is immediately followed by an excerpt from a speech by Kateb Yacine, another giant of Algerian francophone literature. The epigraph, from which Allouache extracted his title, is a tribute by Assia Djebar to all Algerian women and their struggle for a better future. “Et Tant d’adolescentes, de fillettes dehors!… D’une Algérie en mutation, lourde d’orages et d’interrogations, le coeur fragile, le coeur fertile, fremissant et l’avenir devant nous cherche son rythme. ‘Femmes en Mouvements’ d’une Algérie vraiment nouvelle.” —Assia Djebar, March 2, 1990.


Algeria on Screen “So Many adolescent girls outside !… Of an Algeria in transformation, Weary of storms and interrogations, a weak heart, a fertile heart, quivering and the future ahead of us searching for its rhythm. ‘Women in Action’ of a truly new Algeria.”18

Through this documentary film, Allouache succeeds in showing us that women are the ones who served as the first shield against Islamic fanaticism. After all, they were the first victims of these conservative groups who had pressured the authorities to impose restrictions on women’s lives. In reaction, women have decided once again to fight tooth and nail to preserve their freedom and dignity. In fact, women’s resistance to domination in Algeria is not new but dates back several centuries.

Contextual background Throughout Algeria’s entire history of resistance to foreign occupation, Algerian women have always played a key role. Kahina, the legendary Berber queen, for example, led her armies for several years against the Arab invasion in the seventh century CE. During the French conquest of Algeria in the mid-nineteenth century, Fadhma N’Soumer, known as the

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Berber Joan of Arc, also led military resistance against the French. More recently, women made an immense contribution in the Algerian war of independence (1954–1962). Hassiba Ben Bouali, Djamila Bouhired, and Zohra Drif, as illustrated in Gillo Pontecorvo’s famous film, The Battle of Algiers (1966), were very instrumental in this struggle for independence. In the film, we see them remove their veils and dress up like fashionable French women in order to sneak past checkpoints and plant bombs in some public places. The film focused only on the capital city, but the war took place in other regions as well, especially in the mountains where women also played important roles as nurses, cooks, messengers, and secretaries. The National Liberation Front, which ruled the country since independence, has been ambivalent about women’s issues. The liberal side promoted women’s rights, especially after considering their contributions during the war. The conservative side, based mostly on Islamic and traditional beliefs, wanted limited rights for women and has been the resistance force against any advancement of gender equality since then. In fact, in 1981, this conservative branch managed to draft a very retrograde family law, advocating far fewer rights for women. Thanks to pressure from different women’s movements, the government retracted the law. However, only three years later, under pressure from conservative Islamist elements, the government imposed a similar family code, but this time without any consent or public debate. The Family Code, passed on June 9, 1984, was based mainly on Islamic (Sharia) law and established patriarchal authority. This law immediately affected women’s rights in terms of marriage, divorce, child custody, and inheritance, among other matters. Overall, and it comes as no revelation, patriarchal traditions and Islamic laws in Muslim societies continue to impede progress for women. Despite declared constitutional protections in favor of women’s rights in Algeria, Morocco, and Tunisia, there remain, in everyday practice, many entrenched barriers forbidding sexual equity. A recent report


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edited by Hassania Chalbi-Drissi for the Gender and Trade Network in Africa (GENTA) exposes the extent to which women today in North Africa remain constrained legally and religiously regarding marriage, divorce, alimony, inheritance, and the guardianship of children. The first most comprehensive assessment of feminist political activity and philosophical theory in post-colonial North Africa is undoubtedly the essay by Mireille Paris, Mouvements des femmes et féminismes au Maghreb à l’horizon 1990.19 This essay, written prior to the Dark Decade in Algeria, anticipated the danger of Muslim fundamentalism in North Africa. It looks at the different strands of feminist thought in Tunisia, Morocco, and Algeria with a similar conclusion: despite the theoretical attractions of Franco-European feminist theory, there are deep traditional North African anchorings for solidarity among women that should not be ignored.20 North African feminism today is not exlusively or essentially predicated on gender divides but on the principal, new, and destabilizing force of radical Islam in North African societies.

The Impediments of Religion As I explained previously, Algeria has been suffering from the constant push by Islamists towards a more radical religion, which in part is the reason for the tragic civil war of the 1990’s. In the few years preceding this tragic conflict, women were aware of their status as the first victims of fanaticism, so early on they started organizing, creating associations, and presenting their grievances, thereby becoming an important shield against Islamists and Conservatives alike. Allouache’s documentary, Femmes en Mouvements, offers several perspectives that unravel the complexities of women’s lives in Algeria in the late 1980s and beyond. It is made mostly of interviews with ordinary citizens, activists, and famed intellectuals. Each of the interviewees tackles a different topic of importance regarding women’s issues. Despite their different and sometimes opposing views, each helps us untangle one layer of complexity and thus have a better understanding of women’s

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conditions and of Algerian society at large. For example, there is a paradoxical situation in Algeria whereby patriarchy and radical Islam exist, as I have explained above, and yet large numbers of women live a modern and liberal lifestyle. In addition to women’s presence in the Senate, there are women bankers, taxi drivers, and small business owners, among many other professions. In this documentary, one woman in particular expresses much common sense by explaining that her work at the Cinémathèque d’Alger as a ticket seller allowed her to gain an openness to the world. By watching films from around the world, she acquired not just awareness and knowledge but also a determination to resist against fanaticism and ignorance. Another paradox highlighted in this documentary pertains to women’s freedom. Algiers is supposed to be the urban center where women can easily go out and be active members of society like men. Instead, some women are simply cloistered. Those who go out are required to wear the hijab, which is a paradox in itself as the hijab in this case is a tool for both the seclusion of the body and for the freedom of movement.21 Interestingly enough, it is in the countryside, precisely in the village of Ighil Iloula in Kabylia, where women enjoy complete freedom of circulation and wear their traditional Kabyle dresses instead of the religious veil. In another section of the film, a feminist advocate shares, in a perfect classical Arabic, a few astute comments about education programs and how they gradually tarnish the image of women among the young generations. She argues that one must simply examine what schoolbooks teach about women to notice this gender inequality. These textbooks often show that women are in the kitchen while men are outside. Similarly, girls are always helping their mothers while boys are playing in the garden. For her, this is simply an orchestrated agenda for future generations. To highlight how retrograde this situation has become, she reads an excerpt from the famous twelfth century Andalusian scholar Ibn Rushd (Averroes), about the spoiling of women’s talents and energy in the medieval Muslim world.


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Kateb Yacine corroborates this observation about regression. In an exerpted speech, he reminds his audience that a long time ago Algeria was once governed by a woman known as Kahina.22 This fact confirms that Algeria (and the Maghreb in general for that matter) has regressed considerably in terms of women’s status in society. In the same speech, he also makes a call to both women and men. He argued that while women should fight more to gain their freedom, men must also lend their support in this process: “Le problème numéro un en Algérie est le problème de la femme. Il faut que la femme algérienne se libère, soit libérée avec le concours actif, réel, et sincère des hommes.” (“The number one problem in Algeria is the issue of women. Algerian women must liberate themselves, they must be liberated with the active, real and sincere support of men”). In sum, Merzak Allouache’s documentary Femmes en Mouvements provides an excellent overview of women’s resistance movements in the last three decades. More importantly, it addresses specific questions and nunaces, which are not obvious to any non-specialist of women’s studies, Algerian or not.

Algiers-Beirut: A Souvenir: From one Civil War to Another In 1998, Allouache was invited again by ARTE to make a film about the Algerian Civil War entitled Algiers-Beirut: A Souvenir.The story takes place in Lebanon, but Algeria is so omnipresent in the film that it becomes one of the characters in the story. Allouache himself said that he made a “film about Algeria without having to go there.” The first scene shows a man being stabbed to death in the stairway of his Algiers apartment building. This act immediately plunges viewers into the violence that is to be expected when reading the first two words of the title: Algiers and Beirut. In the context of the 1990s, these two

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cities epitomize the civil war with its manifestations of violence and destruction. The next few scenes feature the main character, Laurence, who is discovering the city of Beirut in ruins while listening to the comments of her guide, a Lebanese businessman who apparently was her late father’s best friend. Laurence lives in Paris, but she has come to Beirut to make a video about her father for her ageing mother. While in Beirut, she stumbles on Rachid, an Algerian friend and colleague that she knew in Algiers when they both worked as journalists. However, Rachid has become a different person. Haunted by guilt about the murder of his colleague and friend in Algiers, he drowns his sorrows in alcohol every night after work in an Algerian bar in Beirut. Viewers learn later that he was forced by the terrorists to conspire with them and facilitate the killing of his journalist friend. Allouache cannot help but tackle once again this plight of Algerian journalists and their tragic fate in the 1990s.

Unmasking the Terrorists and the War Profiteers In most of Allouache’s films, there are “beads” that one must tie together in order to obtain the full meaning of the “necklace.” One such bead in the context of this film is the BMW car. Its symbolism is in no way accidental. In Bab el-Oued City, two mysterious men dressed in suits and driving a BMW appear several times. We see them giving orders to the hotheaded Islamist, Saïd. It becomes obvious that Saïd is just a pawn in the game. In Algiers-Beirut: A Souvenir, Rachid has a flashback that takes us to Algiers where we see the three young men getting ready to assassinate the journalist friend. They too drive a black BMW.23 Unlike the image people have of terrorists, the young men do not look like Islamists, let alone terrorists. They are clean-shaven, dressed in fancy jeans and teeshirts, and drive sports cars. In the context of the Algerian Civil War, the situation is not cut and dried. Terrorism exists but its instigators are invisible and anonymous. While Allouache does not tell us exactly who these terrorists are, he knows perfectly well not to depict


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them as stereotypical monsters with long beards and Islamic outfits. The fine line between a disenfranchised youth and a radical Islamist is very thin, and the one between a radical Islamist and a terrorist is even thinner. This film might look simple and shallow, but it is full of references to important issues regarding not just Algeria but the world at large, especially in today’s context. For example, the destruction of Beirut for political reasons resonates with the current situations in Aleppo, Tripoli, and other cities in the Middle East and North Africa. Allouache took this opportunity to unmask other groups that benefit from wars. In that background of war and destruction in Beirut, Allouache shows us a scene that is symbolic of what lies behind most wars: namely, the profit made by businesspeople and some corrupt governments. During a sumptuous reception at a luxurious hotel, different people gather to toast their successes. First, we see Middle Eastern princes and emirs, accompanied by gorgeous models. Then we notice the presence of anonymous Europeans in suits, talking in different languages. Among them, there is also Rachid’s friend, the Franco-Algerian man who admits to Laurence that he was there for business opportunities. The film ends with Rachid returning to Algiers, having exorcised the demons of the terrorist past, while the final scene features Laurence, in her Parisian home, watching news on TV of yet another killing of a journalist in Algiers. Obviously, terrorism is never ending.

The Other World: In the Eye of the Storm Allouache went back to Algeria for a short visit in 1999 for the first time since he had left in 1994. He immediately felt the need to make another film about this tragedy—one that would bear witness and show the heart of this violence. Despite discouragement from his circle of family and friends, Allouache quickly wrote the script and went back to Algeria with a crew to shoot The Other World (2000).

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If Bab el-Oued City announces the violence to come and shows the onset of the Dark Decade, The Other World transports viewers into the eye of the storm, showing the violence in its “état pur” (“pure state”), as Rachid says toward the end of the film. Inspired by the realities of Algeria’s civil war, The Other World takes viewers on a journey into the madness of the country’s recent political and religious conflict. Yasmine and Rachid, two young Parisians who are the children of Algerian immigrants, live a quiet life in France. We learn from Yasmine that Rachid went to Algeria to complete his military service,24 but she has not heard from him for over a year. Yasmine decides to follow in his footsteps and investigate his disappearance. She knows nothing about her parents’ native country, but she is determined to discover the truth whatever the price. To achieve that, she will have to cross a country, immersed in violence and intolerance.

Who is Behind the Terrorist Mask? Allouache knows the Algerian situation too well. Instead of providing the typical stereotypes and superficial readings, he shows Hakim, a young man in his early 20s, who seems naïve, lost, vulnerable, and alone. We first see him with some terrorists kidnapping innocent travelers. However, during a military attack on their camp, he decides to save Yasmine’s life and then follow her during her search for Rachid. Once again, it would have been easier, as the media often does, to depict these kidnappers as evil and natural-born killers, but some of these young men are in reality the victims of a system that has been ignoring them for a very long time, and conditions have pushed them over the edge. They become easy prey for the Islamist recruiters who take advantage of their vulnerability to easily recruit them. Unfortunately, history repeats itself and people, politicians in particular, do not seem to learn the lessons of the past. This easy recruitment of young terrorists, which one would expect to be eradicated, has become an international phenomenon, particularly in the city suburbs across Europe.


Algeria on Screen

The scene featuring Hakim, the young terrorist, reading Yasmine’s journal with amusement, epitomizes the tragedy of an entire generation of frustrated youths. Hakim desires love, but his society forbids it. For example, when he is holding Yasmine’s hand on the bus, the military officer scolds him. Similarly, when Yasmine rests her head on his shoulder, Hakim immediately feels uncomfortable and looks around to see whether the other passengers are looking at him. Obviously, unlike Hakim, Yasmine does not know that even a simple gesture like that one is taboo. Hakim becomes a terrorist because of the emptiness in his life, but there are other reasons. The iniquity he suffers from, like most of his fellow Algerian youths, has many layers and facets. From the story he tells Yasmine when she asks to know more about him, we learn that “they” killed his two brothers. Again, the identity of “they” is not clear here, but one can safely assume that he is referring to the police or the military. Incidents like that one often constitute the “straw that breaks the camel’s back.” Some scenes in the film indicate that this character is willing to change and become normal. In one scene, he reads Yasmine’s diary with a smile on his face. He seems amused by what he reads. In addition to saving her life and helping her during her peregrinations, Hakim shows some tender gestures. In another scene, he puts a blanket on Yasmine while she is asleep. In short, Hakim is a microcosmic representation of Algeria’s youths, victims of a regime that has not only marginalized them and neglected them but also pushed them to delinquency and religious fanaticism. In addition, tradition denies them certain liberties and pleasures. Things become worse as some imams brainwash them and then deliver them as cannon fodder to radical Islamist cells. I develop this particular aspect in detail in chapter 5. Hakim is the alter ego of Omar in Omar Gatlato, but he is also the precursor of the other Omar in Madame Courage. He connects their stories because they all represent the frustration of most Algerian youths. The first Omar loves Selma, but he cannot face her because of tradition,

The Rise of Islamic Fundamentalism


as I explained in chapter 1. The Omar in Madame Courage also falls in love with Selma, but he knows too well that it is an impossible love. His status as a poor delinquent also leaves him with no chance to win her love. The use of the same names (Omar and Selma) in Omar Gatlato and Madame Courage is not fortuitous. Allouache seems to suggest that, over the last four decades, things have not improved that much for these two successive generations. The Other World is also full of subthemes, most of which are developed in other films by Allouache. One is the raping of kidnapped young women by the terrorists. Following the roadblock, halfway through the film, the terrorists kill all the victims except Yasmine who was lucky because Hakim intervened at the right moment and said: “Spare her. We will keep her for the emir.” The issue of rape has had drastic consequences for Algerian society after the end of the civil war in 2000. Many of these women returned to their families with “illegitimate” children, but most families shunned them. Society and the authorities did not pay heed to the plight either. This film is also an homage to the brave women who resisted the injustice of the Islamists through their refusal to adhere to Islamic laws and through their engagement in feminist associations and other resistance cells. Yasmine’s friend, Thouraya, explains that she endeavors, to the best of her ability, to push back against the Islamist social project. Thouraya then makes this accurate description of the status quo: “Ceux qui sont morts sont morts, et ceux qui sont vivants vivent. L’amnésie est à la mode… Chacun est pour soi. Il faut faire de l’argent et très rapidement.” (“Those who died are dead and those who are still alive live. Amnesia is now in fashion. Everyone for himself. One must make money and very fast”). Once again, Allouache predicts what would happen in the following years when people would do anything to earn money. This particular theme is examined in depth in chapter 5. By depicting this horrific violence on screen, Allouache hopes to help his compatriots overcome and exorcise their trauma. In this way, artists


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engage in and deal with reality. This is precisely what distinguishes them from politicians, most of whom simply prefer to bury their heads in the sand. Lastly, while the first scene of the film (as Yasmine is getting ready to leave Paris) features jovial classical music, by contrast the melancholy of the Gnawa music in the end matches the last scene of the film with the sadness of the denouement and the frightening solitude of the desert. In addition to its tragic and macabre tone, the last scene is an example of a perfect theatrical ending. All the main characters, including Yasmine, Rachid, Hakim, the mentally ill man, the prostitutes, and the brothel owner, gather in the same desert location, under the stars of a beautiful New Year’s Eve. Alas, the frustrated terrorist spoils the party by killing everyone in cold blood.25 Again, as is the case in most of Allouache’s films (and in most literary classics of North Africa for that matter), the ending is tragic, marked by failure, disenchantment, and death. However, Gnawa Diffusion’s song gives a more positive twist to the film’s ending. It is beautifully sung by Amazigh Kateb, son of the celebrated Algerian writer, Kateb Yacine. The lyrics include the following words, which close the film: The sun and stars are witnesses to disasters And African spirits observe our massacres Winds howl fiercely, blowing dust on our history Of veils, rape, murder and the arbitrary, The shadows of the past last and last And Algeria is dying while another one is rising.…26 To cover the aftermath of this civil war, Allouache made The Repentant in 2011, in which he shows precisely how the country transitioned from the civil war to the so-called national reconciliation, following the

The Rise of Islamic Fundamentalism


government’s amnesty law in 1999. My analysis of this film is included in chapter 4. I have examined how the Islamist violence started in the early 1990s (Life and Death of Algerian Journalists, Women in Action, Quiet Days in Kabylia and Bab el-Oued City), and then how it manifested itself during the Dark Decade (Algiers-Beirut: A Souvenir and The Other World). In the next chapter, I will focus on another tragic consequence of the Dark Decade: emigration.


Algeria on Screen

Notes 1. One has to make a clear distinction between the words “Muslim,” “Islamic,” and “Islamist.” A confusion of these terms can be dangerous especially in today’s world. For a detailed explanation of these definitions, see Alek Toumi’s “Literature and Power: Muslims vs. Islamists.” Religion and Literature, University of Notre Dame, 2011, volume 43.1, pp. 126–132. 2. See the documentary Femmes en mouvements on YouTube. https://www. Accessed on February 23, 2019. 3. Daoud, Kamel. Le Quotidien d’Oran, “Que faire de l'identité et des identitaires en Algérie ?” December 6, 2018. 4. Allouache, Merzak. Bab el-Oued. Trans. By Angela Brewer. Boulder: Lynne Rienner Publishers, 1998. 5. Ibid., p. 133. 6. In Afghanistan, Algerians joined the coalition of forces, recruited by the CIA and supported by Saudi money to fight communism (see the film Charlie Wilson’s War). 7. The military-FLN government has been referred to as “le Pouvoir” (the Power). 8. Camus, Albert. Summer in Algiers. New York: Penguin, 2005. 9. Mundy, Jacob Andrew, "Visualizing National Reconciliation after the Algerian Civil War: Violence, Gender, and ‘virtual justice’ in Film." In Spectacles of Blood: A Study of Violence and Masculinity In Postcolonial Films. Ed. Swaralipi Nandi and Esha Chatterjee. New Delhi: Zubaan, 2012, p. 34. 10. McMurray, David. “Bab el-Oued City.” Visual Anthropology, 1998, Vol. 10, Issue 2/4, p. 444. 11. There are connections between characters in different Allouache films. Allouache has a propensity to return to certain topics that are never closed. This technique is reminiscent of Kateb Yacine’s literary fiction. The character of Nedjma (who represents Algeria) was born in the poem Nedjma ou le poème ou le couteau, but she later becomes the main character in the novel Nedjma. Her character resurfaces again in Le Polygone étoilé.

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12. Lounès Matoub was to the Kabyles what Bob Dylan and Joan Baez were to Americans in the 1960s, with their anti-war and pro-civil rights protest songs. 13. I thank my friend and colleague, Joseph Krause, for translating this song for me. 14. Dubois-Chabert, Jean-Louis. Interview “La Nostalgérie selon Merzak Allouache” in La Dépêche du Midi, November 23, 2001. 15. The shock wave of the Kabylia Spring of April 20, 1980, arrived at its maturation in October 1988, and finally saw the entire country revolting against Chadli’s regime. 16. Unfortunately, that brief window of democratic openness was closed in 1992, with the assassination of President Mohamed Boudiaf and the beginning of the Algerian Civil War. 17. In a very Machiavellian move, the FLN government legalized the Islamist party, FIS (Islamic Salvation Front), when the constitution doesn’t allow the creation of a party based on religion. 18. My own translation. 19. Paris, Mireille, “Mouvements de femmes et féminisme au Maghreb à l’horizon 1990,” Annuaire de l’Afrique du Nord, Tome XXVIII, 1989 (Paris: Éditions CRNS: 431-441). 20. In the larger context of international feminist history, it is worth reviving a modern classic, namely, French Feminisms. An Anthology, edited by Elaine Marks and Isabelle de Courtivron (New York: Pantheon, 1987). Her introduction offers a remarkable contrast between post 1960 legislatively pragmatic American feminism under Gloria Steinem and the National Organization for Women (NOW) and France’s far more theoretically driven feminist outlook, that included the Mouvement de Libération de la Femme (MLF). 21. There is another nuance, which is explained briefly by one woman in the documentary: wearing the hijab for her is a way to mask her poverty. As she is poor and cannot afford decent clothes, she resorts to the use of the hijab. In her case, wearing the veil is by no means a religious conviction, but rather a necessity. 22. Kahina’s birth name was Dihya (the lovely gazelle in Berber), but history has given her many names. Paradoxically, she is best known today by alKahina, the name assigned to her in Arabic: seer or witch. Although little is known of her life, she was able to assemble an army to fight against the Arab invasion of North Africa in the 7th century CE, in this case, the Umayyad Arab troops under their leader Hassan ibn al Nu’man. Just like




25. 26.

Algeria on Screen Joan of Arc in France and Boudica in England, Kahina’s military success was short-lived. Following a number of engagements with Arab armies, her troops were eventually defeated leading to her own death. After independence in 1962, black cars were reserved for and owned by the authorities.Cabinet ministers, FLN apparatchiks, and members of the government had chauffeurs that drove them in fancy black cars. Algerians, importing cars from France and Europe, could bring in white, blue, and brown models of Peugeot 505, BMW, and other big cars, as long as they were not black. This color (black) was reserved for “le Pouvoir” (the regime). This duty was required of all the young bi-nationals, even if they were born in France and had never set foot in Algeria. At the age of 18, they have to choose circumscription between the French and the Algerian armies. The terrorist in this case represents the jackal in the Kabyle fable, in which this animal decides to terrorize the chickens throughout the night because the fence prevents it from catching one for a meal. Amazigh Kateb, Gnawa Diffusion, from their 1997 album, Algeria. (G.D.O Records, France).

Chapter 3

Europe at any Cost Emigration and Immigration I come only with my punishment There comes only my conviction Running is my fate In order to deceive the law Lost in the heart Of the great Babylon They call me the Clandestine ’Cause I don’t carry any identity papers Algerian Clandestine Nigerian Clandestine Bolivian Clandestine


Algeria on Screen Black Hand illegal (Clandestino, by Manu Chao)

The epigraph above, taken from a song by Franco-Spanish singer Manu Chao, encapsulates the existence of thousands of undocumented people around the world, compelled to lead difficult lives only because they do not have identity papers. This situation is only the tip of the iceberg because the journeys these immigrants take before they arrive at their destinations often surpass any imaginable horror. Even worse, some of these immigrants die while crossing the sea. The first half of this chapter focuses on the phenomenon of clandestine migration as it pertains to Algeria, particularly during and after the civil war of the 1990s. The second half addresses the issue of the Algerian immigrant community in France, with all the related concerns, including xenophobia, the question of Islam and its place in French society, the veil and burkini issues, and the rising phenomenon of terrorism, among other issues. One of the most tragic consequences of the Algerian Civil War, besides the death toll of more than 200,000 people, has been the emigration of hundreds of thousands of Algerians. This mass migration concerns all social classes, from the elite to the hopeless youth, and from teenagers to older people. The preceding two chapters covered the push factors behind this phenomenon of emigration. While chapter 1 focused on the suffocating society of the 1970s and 1980s, chapter 2 highlighted the Islamist violence during the Dark Decade. This chapter examines not just the push factors (the reasons for emigration) but also multiple burning issues related to migration. My analysis of Tamanrasset (2008) and Harragas (2009) pertains to emigration. Un Amour à Paris (1986), Salut Cousin! (1995), Chouchou (2002), and Tata Bakhta (2011), on the other hand, deal with the issues of the Algerian immigrant community in France.

Europe at Any Cost


PART I: Emigration—Algeria to France Because of the terrorist violence of the 1990s, hundreds of thousands of Algerians left the country to live in Europe or North America. While the first group was predominantly comprised of the highly educated elite such as university professors, journalists, doctors, writers, and artists, the second group has consisted of young people, mostly from the lower classes. Since these young people had no future at home, they have been crossing the Mediterranean Sea, trying to reach the shores of Europe illegally. These immigrants are commonly known as the “harragas”1 (sea burners). Unfortunately, thousands die during their Odyssean journeys. The harragas and their tragic stories caught the attention of Merzak Allouache so in 2009 he made Harragas, in which he not only portrays these crossings but also outlines the reasons behind the urge among Algeria’s youth to flee their country, hoping for a place in a real-life El Dorado on the other side of the Mediterranean Sea. Because of this feature film, 2009 was the year when Merzak Allouache crossed the line in the eyes of the Algerian government. Allouache turned the spotlight on the government and exposed its failures and responsibilities. The tragic aspect of the film does not leave a viewer without a reaction. Harragas also deals with the universal theme of clandestine migration, which partially explains its success at the international level. After all, this phenomenon is not unique to Algeria, nor to the Maghreb and Africa. It is a growing tragedy that continues to haunt European governments as they remain complacent and overwhelmed in the face of this phenomenon. Allouache is among the very few who gives it a face and shows, thanks to the artistry of cinema, what it looks and feels like to “burn” the sea.

Against Taboos: The Curse of the “harragas” Despite its gravity, this issue of clandestine migration to Europe has not been covered adequately by the media. It has not been addressed properly


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by policy makers and intellectuals either. In Maghrebian literature, only a few writers, such as Boualem Sansal and Tahar Ben Jelloun, chose to tackle this issue.2 In cinema, most of the big productions are either Moroccan or Tunisian.3 In Algeria, Tariq Teguia directed Rome Plutôt que Vous in 2006, and Nadir Moknèche made Délice Paloma in 2007, which touched upon this issue of clandestine migration to Italy. In 2002, Mostéfa Djadjam made a feature film Borders on this topic but from a different perspective. His film depicts a group of Senegalese men and their crossing of the Sahara Desert in the hope of reaching Spain via the northern shores of Morocco. Borders succeeds in showing the racism that these Sub-Saharan Africans undergo in the Maghreb, even before crossing the Mediterranean. In 2013, after the release of Allouache’s film, Algerian filmmaker Moussa Haddad also made a film about the harraga phenomenon titled Harraga Blues. In Harragas, Allouache emphasizes the degree to which some people are ready to risk their lives and also shows how some parents even support their children’s decision to make such a risky voyage. Instead of exploring the underlying causes of emigration and finding solutions, the government decided to simply punish the “harragas” after having abandoned them since independence. Some media went so far as to criticize Allouache instead of questioning the authorities who at that point had just passed a law that punishes any “harrag” with a prison sentence if they are caught by the authorities or sent back by the European coast guard. The President of Algeria Abdelaziz Bouteflika, breaking his usual silence on the topic, even weighed in with the following statement: There would be no difference between suicide bombers and harragas, except that the former kill innocent people and the latter do more harm to their close families and first and foremost to themselves.4 Ironically, instead of dealing with the issue and its source, the authorities have focused on blaming and shaming the victims. One must first go to the genesis of a phenomenon to understand the real motivation.

Europe at Any Cost


In this case, the act of leaving is a consequence and not a cause. This government’s policy has of course caused a debate,5 especially in political and intellectual circles, but nothing has changed to improve the fate of these unfortunate “sea burners.”

The Hogra Leads to Harga: The Push and Pull Factors Hogra is a word in Algerian dialectal Arabic used in the three countries of the Maghreb to designate a broad concept. It means contempt, neglect, blatant injustice, and indifference on the part of the government visà-vis the population. Harga, in contrast, refers to the act of leaving, of burning one’s identity papers, and taking any risk possible to get to the other side of the Mediterranean. It is true that the Algerian authorities add insult to injury. Instead of focusing on the causes of the harraga phenomenon and remedying them with appropriate measures, they hasten to blame and punish the surviving “harragas” with prison sentences or fines and even with both in some instances. The following words by Allouache corroborate this charge: Malgré des départs de plus en plus nombreux, des corps sans vie repêchés chaque semaine, des articles de presse virulents, la constitution d’associations de parents de jeunes disparus en mer, aucune véritable solution humaine et politique n’est envisagée pour circonscrire ce phénomène qui touche un pays pourtant riche par sa rente pétrolière. Il y a bien sûr, et seulement, la répression, puisqu’un jeune clandestin risque aujourd’hui cinq années de prison pour tentative de traversée illégale de la méditerranée.6 Despite the increasing numbers of crossings, dead bodies every week, virulent press articles, the formation of associations of parents of disappeared youth, no real humane or political solution has been proposed to eradicate this phenomenon, which affects a country despite its richness, thanks to its oil revenues. Of course, there is only repression, since a clandestine youth today


Algeria on Screen runs the risk of five years in prison for an attempt to cross the Mediterranean illegally.

This film unveils the contempt with which the Algerian authorities have been treating the population, which forced those in power to rethink their ways of sweeping problems under the rug. Consequently, the government has since felt uncomfortable and decided to retaliate first by censoring Harragas in Algeria and then by making working conditions very difficult for Allouache. In fact, Allouache has not received government funding since. Nevertheless, people managed to watch it either by getting a copy of the DVD on the black market or on YouTube. Merzak Allouache seems unbothered by these illegal practices,7 which because of censorship, poor film distribution, and the quasi-nonexistence of movie theaters in Algeria seem to be the only way to reach the audience. Allouache’s indifference to this practice seems logical. After all, what is the point of making films if people cannot watch them?

Synopsis and Analysis Harragas tells the story of ten would-be “burners” from Mostaganem, a coastal town approximately two hundred miles west of Algiers. Although the events could actually take place in any coastal town of Algeria, Mostaganem is well known for the harraga phenomenon, which probably was the filmmaker’s motive for choosing the city as the setting for his film. These clandestine emigrants, who come from all walks of life, have only one purpose in mind: reach the coast of Spain, which for them represents an open door to the European El Dorado. The first scene of Harragas establishes the context for the story and explains young people’s profound dissatisfaction with the state of affairs in their country and their propensity to “burn” as a result. The multiple problems, which urge these young adults to leave their country, are early on in the film articulated by the narrator in the description of his neighborhood:

Europe at Any Cost


This is my neighborhood, the neighborhood of those forgotten by life, of boredom, misery, joblessness, trafficking; where people are born every day and where they die every day; a neighborhood where dreams remain dreams. If you were to ask, ninety percent of the residents would say they want to leave.8 This statement is so somber that it alone sets the backdrop for the rest of the film. Through this short description, the viewer immediately gets the full picture and becomes ready to follow the characters as they embark on their journey. Allouache offers a perspective that is different from the stereotypical, European representations of the migrants. European media usually depicts them as indigent, uneducated, violent, and even dangerous, especially in today’s world in which terrorism has reached almost every part of the planet. Allouache, shows us instead who these “illegal” migrants really are: normal human beings with different stories affected by diverse push factors. These “harragas” do not represent, by any means, a homogeneous group. They come from different backgrounds, are of different social classes, and have different political and religious inclinations. It would obviously be wrong to put them all in the same category. The film shows that most if not all of the social classes in Algeria were affected by this phenomenon of clandestine migration. Thus, one must not assume that economic and political reasons are the only factors that drive these harragas to leave. Social factors also play a part in young people’s desire to leave and discover a different world. One such factor is gender and male-female relationships. Chapter 1 tackles this topic in more detail through my analysis of Omar Gatlato, but the viewer can easily sense this uneasiness in Imène, the female character in Harragas. Her desire to leave Algeria has more to do with social norms and taboos and much less with economic reasons. Her boyfriend, Nasser, is from an upper middle-class family, but he, too, wants to leave. In short, the conservative forces in Algeria have a grip on the lifestyle of citizens,


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particularly the youth. This situation has been exacerbated by the rise of the radical Islamists in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Merzak Allouache shows this social diversity in a direct yet clever way. Among the ten harragas on the boat, we see a runaway cop (Mustapha), an Islamist (Hakim), the narrator-protagonist (Rachid) and the modernlooking couple (Imène and Nasser), whom the cop9 mockingly calls “tchitchi”10 (“daddy’s boys and girls”). Mustapha finds it ironic that the patera (small boat) also includes members of this privileged class and asks Nasser why his father could not get him a visa to France and allow him to travel there legally instead of going on this treacherous crossing. However, despite this diversity, most of the harragas come from the lower classes. It is not a coincidence that the other five harragas on the boat are poor, unemployed, and uneducated. In fact, the cop even pokes fun at the entire crew, saying that ironically both classes are reduced to their helpless condition of clandestines (Abderrezak, 2016). Allouache’s film also asks why Algeria is so rich and yet the majority of the population lives in poverty. Its youth, in particular, endure unemployment, lack of opportunities, and a suffocating atmosphere, caused mainly by the Islamists and the Conservative members of society since the 1970s. As Allouache explained, the consequences are all tragic in their own way since these young people are now compelled to pick their own poison: radical Islam, endless riots, suicide, or escape: Ces nouveaux "boat people" sont le symbole du drame que vit la jeunesse algérienne tiraillée entre l'islamisme radical qui crée le kamikaze, l’émeute collective qui embrase très souvent les villes et les villages, le suicide individuel ou la fuite en groupe par tous les moyens d’un pays qui semble figé et n’offre plus rien à ses enfants…11 These new “boat people” symbolize the drama of the Algerian youth, torn asunder between radical Islamism, which creates the kamikaze, collective riots that often destroy cities and villages,

Europe at Any Cost


suicide, or desperate escapes from a country, which seems rigid and offers nothing to its children…

The Clash of Modus Vivendis A striking scene in the film epitomizes perfectly the divide between a rich north and a poor south. When the boat is adrift and the desperate harragas have already lost some of their fellow travelers, a European luxury boat passes by, carrying people drinking champagne and listening to music. One beautiful young woman even raises her glass and gazes at them. The men on the patera become immediately thunderstruck by the intensity of that contrast. Her beauty, and the shock of two opposing worlds colliding for few seconds on a starry night on the sea, render them speechless. The narrator describes that particular scene in the following words: “She was like an angel in the middle of the night, and it’s me she was looking at. I could even smell her perfume. Shalimar de Guerlain. Until today, I haven’t figured out whether it was a dream or reality. I don’t care!”12 The entire frustration of Algerian youth is encapsulated in this one scene. The men’s intense gaze at the young lady, with their eyes wide open in marvel, tells more about their lives than words possibly can. Furthermore, the narrator, in total confusion, does not care if the image was reality or dream. He is just enjoying these precious moments. The fact of coming so close to that ultimate embodiment of El Dorado, so present in his mind, is sufficient for him to feel alive for once and forget his world even for only a few seconds. That nirvana moment is reminiscent of Janine’s symbiosis with the cosmos in Albert Camus’s short story, The Adulterous Woman.13 With this film, Allouache suggests that the West, at least Europe, is also to blame for this tragic phenomenon. First, there is a complete indifference by Europe to the problems of Africa. This lack of interest and solidarity obviously creates a boomerang effect because the consequences


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of the African issues spill over to Europe. A more logical, humanistic, and practical strategy would have been to help the formerly colonized countries of North and Sub-Saharan Africa to build their own successful societies and hence keep their own younger generations at home. Unfortunately, in several cases, the opposite occurred. The devastating support of dictators and the ongoing exploitation of the natural and economic resources of these countries led to a lose-lose situation, whereby Africa remains shackled in poverty and Europe faces increasing and uncontrollable waves of mass illegal migration, not just from the south but from the east as well, especially after the recent turmoil in the Middle East. Réda Bensmaïa argued that in Europe, this phenomenon of clandestine immigration is not perceived as an event but as a non-event because it has not yet affected Europe.14 It is something that is far away and which concerns only the authorities of their respective countries. Some associations and human rights organizations have of course been very active in providing help for these poor immigrants, but generally speaking the issue has not been given the attention and coverage it deserves. Furthermore, in Allouache’s view, governments on both sides of the Mediterranean are not the only ones that should be held responsible for this tragedy. He also seems to blame those who take advantage of the harragas’ vulnerability. Hassan Mal de Mer is the nickname given to the character of the passeur (the smuggler). He is portrayed as ruthless, rude, and even racist toward his dark-skinned compatriots from the south. His only concern is to make money by exploiting the plight of these clandestine migrants. This character may easily have evolved from Omar Gatlato’s minor character Boualem Mal de Mer15who was more of a naïve romantic. Unlike his alter ego in Harragas, Boualem Mal-deMer, the young character from the 1970s, faces the issues of that time period, such as unemployment, boredom, and sexual frustration, but is not unscrupulous and violent. One scene shows him and his friends waiting patiently all day to watch a soccer game scheduled for that evening. While they were waiting, he picked up again the pictures of all the young

Europe at Any Cost


women he had seemingly dated when he was a sailor. As usual, his friends teased him again for having bragged about that numerous times. The harraga phenomenon did not exist at that time. Young people would attempt an experience overseas and either stayed there or came back home. This traumatic “burning of the sea” is rather recent in Algeria’s contemporary history. It is only after France started imposing visas in the early 1990s that people resorted to this illegal crossing of the Mediterranean Sea. Mal de Mer in Harragas is unscrupulous. The boat he ordered was not completely ready for the crossing, and yet he did not care and wanted his “clients” to sail anyway. Like most of the smugglers in this unscrupulous business, all he cared about was the money he collected from the harragas. In an interview posted on Mondomix (an online magazine of world music and cultures), shortly after the release of Harragas, Allouache identified his reasons for making the film. For him, it was mostly to “document the rage of confinement that gnaws at Algerian youth.”16 These young people feel indeed trapped in their own country and the Mediterranean Sea seems to them like the “Berlin Wall.” He then explained the need to witness the grimness and lack of hope, which drives so many to go on what he called, “literally a suicide mission.” Until a few decades ago, emigration and exile were synonymous with death in most North African societies. When someone departed for exile, they symbolically became dead in the eyes of their family and their community. Nowadays, it is completely the opposite. Emigration has been viewed as the way out, as the road to survival and even to success. In Harragas, while Rachid’s mother weeps when the moment for her son’s departure comes, his father embraces him and tells him that he would have done the same thing. What a tragic situation when a father accepts and even condones his own son’s perilous journey. This situation alone gauges the gravity of this clandestine migration, which started a couple of decades ago. As early as 2006, the number of casualties from these sea crossings reached tens of thousands.17


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Allouache criticizes people on both sides of the Mediterranean for the tragic outcomes of the harraga phenomenon. On the one hand, he points a finger at the Algerian authorities and asks why a country that is so rich, thanks mostly to oil and natural gas, allows its youth to feel hopeless to the point of risking their lives while crossing the sea. Europe, Allouache argued, is also responsible because European countries refuse to deliver visas for people, thus preventing them from making the journey legally, instead of embarking on perilous journeys across the seas. It appears to be true that with easy access to visas, people will be less tempted to stay undocumented in the host country. In fact, when Algerians travelled to France without required visas in the 1980s, most did not stay beyond the allotted duration. One might argue that the context was different, but it is nonetheless worth contrasting these two situations. What seems to bother Allouache the most is the apathy of the state in the face of such a problem. In an interview about Harragas in Univerciné, he explains that: “Mon problème, c’est qu’on parle de tout en Algérie, mais on ne règle pas les problèmes.”18 (“My problem is that we talk about everything in Algeria, but we do not solve the problems.”) The death toll from this harraga phenomenon is simply too heavy. Allouache made sure to show the numbers on the screen at the end of the films in both French and Arabic, while Rachid, the narrator, closes the story by saying that he wanted to tell the story of “their [harragas’] life, a dirty life, a life that he does not wish for anyone.” I reproduce below the full text from the film, but I need to underline that these numbers have been increasing since 2009, the year when Harragas was released: From 1988 to February 2009, no less than 13,444 migrants died at the borders of Europe. 5,182 of them died at sea. In the Mediterranean Sea and in the Atlantic Ocean, 9,500 migrants lost their lives.

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In the Canal of Sicily, 3,163 people died between Libya, Egypt, Tunisia, Malta and Italy, and 125 others lost their lives along the new routes between Algeria and the island of Sardinia. 4,399 people also perished offshore the Canary Islands and the Strait of Gibraltar between Morocco, Algeria and Spain. 2,232 of them are missing… The last scene of the film is also symbolic because the viewer does not know whether the man who came to the surviving men will rescue them or denounce them to the coast guard who in turn will send them back to their home country, only to undergo other punishments. In fact, in the fall season of 2017, news broke out that the harragas were the victims of a slave trade in Libya. This inhuman practice, which was supposed to have disappeared from the face of the Earth a century and a half ago, reappears once again, targeting surviving harragas. How long will the world remain silent? And how many dead bodies must the Mediterranean Sea expel before this tragedy is finally addressed seriously? Why do the governments of both Europe and Africa keep putting the responsibility on each other instead of working together? These questions remain unanswered and still open today.

Tamanrasset: African Harragas and their “Burning” of the Sahara Desert Allouache is among the first filmmakers to tackle the issue of Sub-Saharan Africans and their border crossings in the Sahara Desert. Before “burning the sea,” these poor migrants must first “burn the desert.” Because they come from Sub-Saharan countries: namely, Mali, Senegal, Niger, and Burkina Faso, they have to cross the borders of Algeria in the south and then travel thousands of miles across the Sahara to reach Africa’s northern shorelines. That constitutes only the first part of their journey. The second part consists of crossing the Mediterranean Sea to get to


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Europe, as we have just seen with the film Harragas. In that sense, one might easily argue that Tamanrasset (2008) is a prequel to Harragas (2009). Tamanrasset is a TV film commissioned by ARTE in 2008. It tells the story of a fashion crew in Paris who decide to go to the farthest point in the Algerian desert to shoot photos for a TV commercial. The customer, an ice cream company, requires a diverse group of models: namely, one white, one dark-skinned, and one Arab. Philippe, a famed photographer, finds the idea silly but accepts the offer. Upon arrival in Tamanrasset, the crew discovers that there is a dark side to this magical place. Tamanrasset is much lighter than Harragas. While Harragas is very somber and contains absolutely no humor, Tamanrasset includes a combination of sarcasm and dark humor, which forces the viewer to pause and ponder some subtleties and nuances. For example, in the scene when the team manager first notices the chase of the sub-Saharan Africans, she asks: “C’est le Paris-Dakar?” (“Is it the Paris-Dakar?”), in reference to the automobile race. The cynical Algerian tour organizer replies ironically: “C’est plutôt le Dakar-Paris.” (“It is rather the DakarParis.”) No additional dialogue is needed to convey the sarcasm in this particular scene.

Criticism of Society Allouache once again uses the mise-en-abîme here, as he does in most of his films. In a conversation between two characters, one brings up the government’s tourism policy, which has been a disaster since independence. A country with so much potential because of its diverse natural beauty remains lethargic and entirely closed to promoting tourism. In another sequence, Allouache highlights the racist feelings that are prevalent in Algerian society and in Maghrebian society at large. One of the two Algerian police officers overtly expresses his hatred of the French and of Africans. These officers are portrayed as aggressive, hateful, despicable, and bitter. In addition, one of these two policemen is also

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presented as a misogynist who often mistreats the Turkish woman for no apparent reason. The tour guide, in turn, is presented as a hypocrite and with very low moral standards. He brags to the French crew about earning RMI (unemployment benefits) in France while living and working in Algeria. What seems resourceful to him comes off to the others as being a scoundrel. In addition to these negative traits, Allouache also highlights the exploitation and contempt with which some of the Algerians treat immigrants. In one scene, we see a restaurant owner escort an African worker out of the kitchen because he wants to deliver him to the police during their raid in the neighborhood so he can get away with not paying him. These clandestine migrants face a multitude of obstacles. In addition to being constantly chased by the police, they are despised by the local residents, who unfairly accuse them of bringing violence and AIDS. Through this background of injustice, exploitation, and iniquity, Allouache accentuates the human debasement by sprinkling the story with the childish bickering of the French crew and their bourgeois hypocrisy. This is reminiscent of Jean Renoir’s 1939 film La Règle du Jeu (The Rules of the Game), which depicts a corrupt and rotten society at the onset of World War II. The situation is serious and yet both the bourgeois and their lower-class workers seem indifferent and are only concerned with their love affairs and personal relationships. Philippe, the photographer in Tamanrasset, suspects this situation immediately upon arrival on site. Sensing that something is wrong, he says to his crew members: “Il y a une violence sourde ici” (“There is a muted violence going on here”), but nobody pays attention to his remark. He then decides to find out what is going on. To his surprise, he discovers a subterranean cave where hundreds of Africans live in horrifying conditions. This discovery marks his metamorphosis, and he quits his job as photographer and prepares for his return home.


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Tamanrasset is interesting as it is the first film—and perhaps the only one—to depict migration in the Sahara Desert and its tragic impact on Algerian society (and eventually on French society). Allouache’s condemnation of the inhuman treatment of these Sub-Saharan migrants by both the population and the authorities in Algeria (and later in Europe) will come to haunt politicians on both sides of the Mediterranean for years to come. In the eyes of Algerian authorities, Allouache’s film broke the taboo of clandestine migration from the south. As a result, he was refused permission to shoot Tamanrasset in Algeria. This ban constituted another obstacle from the government that Allouache had to deal with. In chapter 1, I discussed how the filmmaker had to circumvent censorship in order to make Omar Gatlato in 1976. In the next chapter, we will see how he transforms his filmmaking methods to remedy similar hurdles. For Tamanrasset, however, the solution was rather easy. He simply took his crew to the neighboring Moroccan desert.

Part II: Immigration, or Algeria in France In this section, my analysis will include the following films: Salut Cousin!, Un Amour à Paris, Chouchou, and Tata Bakhta. All these films take place in France. While Paris serves as the setting for the first three films, a small town in southern France, more likely La Ciotat, is the location for the telefilm Tata Bakhta. Before moving to analysis, it is noteworthy to situate Merzak Allouache in the context of filmmaking and identity. Such detail allows for a better understanding of the relationship not just between the filmmaker and his host country but also between his characters and France. In fact, Alec Hargraeves is right in pointing out the difference in France between émigré directors such as Allouache and second-generation Maghrebi-French filmmakers, in the likes of Rachid Bouchareb, Rabah Ameur-Zaïmeche, and Yamina Benguigui, among many others. Hargraeves believes that:

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In the work of émigré directors such as Merzak Allouache, their country of origin generally retains a foundational referentiality that distinguishes it from films by second-generation Maghrebis, for whom France is “home” in a more fundamental sense than for migrants who have settled there as adults. Thus films such as Allouache’s Salut cousin! (1996) and Chouchou (2003) tend to be framed by the experiences of characters “discovering” France after migrating from the Maghreb…19 As mentioned in chapter 1, Allouache lived intermittently in France in the 1960s and 1980s and has been living there more permanently since the mid-1990s because of threats from the Islamists during the Dark Decade. So, while he does not want to focus too much on the issue of the Beurs (first- and second-generation French of Algerian descent), Allouache has examined how Algerian immigrants and their children adapt into French society. He has also addressed the lives of some Algerians, including himself, who come to France for a variety of reasons and end up leading a new life there. In the mid-twentieth century, the Algerian intellectual-poet Jean Amrouche wrote the following words about the issue of identity in the context of colonialism: “L’homme ne peut vivre s’il ne s’accepte tel qu’il est, s’il ne se sent pas accepté par la société où il vit, s’il ne peut avouer son nom.” (“Man cannot live if he does not accept himself as he is, if he does not feel accepted by the society where he lives, and if he cannot avow his name.”) This quote describes adroitly the condition of Mok’s character in Salut Cousin! Mok refuses to accept himself (as a Frenchman of Algerian descent), and he is also not accepted by society (which denies him his Frenchness). Jean Amrouche’s quote above refers to France of the 1940s and 1950s whereas Salut Cousin! is a film about France of the 1990s. It is clear that the situation has not changed that much in the last seventy years.


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The Problem of the Banlieues Before discussing the films, it is necessary to offer a brief contextual background on the “malaise des banlieues” (tension in the suburbs). In the past couple of decades, France has known a series of violent riots in its banlieues, where burning and looting were prevalent. Neither the media nor the authorities attempted to explain these events so people could easily understand the ins and outs of the situation. Instead, they insulted, blamed, and shamed the minorities living in those suburbs, holding them responsible for the banlieues crises. Nicolas Sarkozy, Minister of the Interior at that time, went so far as to say that the police would clean up the suburbs with a pressure hose, comparing the banlieues’ youths to dirt that must be wiped out. French immigration policies have been disastrous, and the authorities (be it from the Left or the Right) have always failed in dealing with France’s immigrant minorities. French sociologist Jean Baudrillard blames society as a whole for this discrepancy and explains the reasons behind the whole situation of the banlieues. For him: L’immigration et ses problèmes ne sont que les symptômes de la dissociation de notre société aux prises avec elle-même. La vérité inacceptable est là : c’est nous qui n’intégrons même plus nos propres valeurs et, du coup, faute de les assumer, il ne nous reste plus qu’à les refiler aux autres de gré ou de force. Une bonne part de la population se vit ainsi, culturellement et politiquement, comme immigrée dans son propre pays, qui ne peut même plus lui offrir une définition de sa propre appartenance nationale. Cette société doit affronter une épreuve bien plus terrible que celle de forces adverses : celle de sa propre absence, de sa perte de réalité, telle qu’elle n’aura bientôt plus d’autre définition que celle des corps étrangers qui hantent sa périphérie, de ceux qu’elle a expulsés et qui, maintenant, l’expulsent d’elle-même, mais dont l’interpellation violente à la fois révèle ce qui se défait en elle et réveille une sorte de prise de conscience. Si elle réussissait à les intégrer, elle cesserait définitivement d’exister à ses propres yeux… On peut déplorer rétrospectivement cette faillite du monde

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occidental, mais «Dieu sourit de ceux qu'il voit dénoncer les maux dont ils sont la cause». 20 Immigration and its problems are only the symptoms of the dissociation of our society from its own struggle. The unacceptable truth is: it is we who no longer integrate our own values and, as a result, failing to assume them, we have only to pass them on to others by will or by force. A large part of the population is thus living, culturally and politically, as immigrants in their own country, which can no longer even offer them a definition of their own national belonging. This society must face a far more terrible test than that of adverse forces: that of its own absence, its loss of reality, such that it will soon have no other definition than that of the foreign bodies which haunt its periphery, of those whom she expelled and who now expel her from herself, but whose violent interpellation at the same time reveals what is undoing in her and awakens a kind of awareness. If it succeeded in integrating them, it would definitely cease to exist in its own eyes… One can deplore retrospectively this bankruptcy of the Western world, but “God smiles of those whom he sees denounce the evils of which they are the cause.” Similar to Jean Amrouche’s statement above, Baudrillard’s contention is that French society has failed to include all its citizens, and consequently the immigrant minorities have been alienated in their own country. This estrangement is indeed the root of the problem, because the immigrant communities, in turn, reject society, or at least what symbolizes the nation. In the end, Baudrillard is also right in arguing that those who decry this situation are the same ones who created it.

Salut Cousin!: Depicting Algeria, but from Paris Salut Cousin! tells the story of Alilo, played by Gad Elmaleh, who comes to Paris from Algiers for a short stay. His mission is to purchase clothing to take back to his boss in Algiers. This practice, called “trabendo,”21was common in the 1980s and 1990s, as a consequence of the Algerian


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government’s socialist policies. A Trabendist would send someone to France or elsewhere in Europe, all expenses paid, to buy clothing or other items in short supply and bring them back home to sell for a profit. Alilo has lost the address of the dress shop, so he is compelled to remain in France a few days longer. In the meantime, he stays with his cousin, Mok, in a rundown working-class neighborhood, inhabited mostly by immigrants. Alilo represents the naïve and yet smart North African who navigates well through Parisian life. He is also filled with kindness and generosity. Alilo’s naiveté works better than Mok’s tricks and dishonest practices. These good qualities are proposed by Merzak Allouache to counter the dominant stereotype of the dangerous “Maghrebin” who steals, makes threats, and cannot behave properly. In today’s world, the situation is worse because some extremists in France (and in Europe at large) easily associate terrorism with migrants, particularly undocumented immigrants. On several occasions, Alilo proves to be honest, respectful, and even courageous. When Fatoumata, a young immigrant woman from West Africa, is being harassed by a group of skinheads in the street, Alilo is the first to confront them. His bravery earns him not just her friendship but her love, as well. The rift between Alilo and Mok represents the difference between the two cultures. Mok is a French-born Algerian who is totally disoriented and who has lost touch with his native culture and with his parents as well. Alilo and Mok share family ties, but the two men are otherwise completely different. Alilo knows who he is and where he comes from. Unlike Mok, he does not feel the need to question his identity. The idea of changing his name does not cross his mind, and it is for this reason that he does not understand Mok’s insistence on being called Mok, and not Mokrane. In Mok’s view, “Mok” would pass better and sounds more French, or rather, less Algerian. This detail is the epitome of an entire generation of Beurs in France and their ongoing struggles with issues, such as identity, integration, assimilation, and citizenship.

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In fact, when Merzak Allouache made this film in 1995, it was the era of Beur cinema, which tackled issues concerning Franco-Maghrebis and their life in the banlieues. Allouache, who felt that he did not know enough to talk about the Beurs, approached their issues in a superficial way and from a different angle. In both Salut Cousin! and Tata Bakhta, for example, he juxtaposes the Beurs with their Algerian counterparts and highlights the differences and the similarities between the two groups. Again, through the Alilo-Mok contrast, the viewer notices the differences in values, beliefs, and attitudes. Mok, as a beur, obviously suffers from alienation, ghettoization, marginalization, discrimination, racism, and rejection, among other issues. Alilo, as an Algerian, faces a totally different set of issues, ones affecting his country at that time: namely, Islamist violence, political turmoil, and unemployment. The contrasts in the film between the Algerians who reside in France and those in their homeland also inform us about other aspects of life in each country. When Alilo visits his aunt and uncle––Mok’s parents–– in their suburban home, he is surprised to see them watching Algerian television shows. Conversely, in Algeria, almost everyone watches French television. This paradox shows that Algerians dream of France and follow what is happening there via satellite dishes, whereas the Algerians in France live their nostalgia for the native country via Algerian TV channels. The beauty of Salut Cousin! is also reflected in its multiple sub-themes. Again, while this film was shot entirely in France, Algeria resurfaces several times as a testimony to the close ties between the two countries. For example, one scene in the film makes a reference to the Islamists who fled Algeria in the early years of the Algerian Civil War and took refuge in France. Some of them became imams in France, and they have obviously planted the seeds of what is happening nowadays in France and beyond. The recruitment of djihadist fighters by ISIS to go fight in the Middle East started precisely in small neighborhood mosques. During and after that war, another group of Algerians, the nouveaux riches and the bourgeoisie, also fled the country to settle in France. Those


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who did not have a legal residence status resorted to trickery and criminal behavior to obtain the necessary papers for themselves and their families. One such case is shown in Salut Cousin!: Mok’s “father-in-law” paid Mok to “marry” his daughter so she can become a legal resident. This practice, commonly known as “mariage blanc” (white marriage), is punishable by law when discovered. After the arranged marriage ceremony, Alilo explains this situation to Mok who does not seem to understand all the details of his own “deal.” In fact, it is this offense that results in Mok’s deportation to Algeria at the end of the film. The final scene is ironic in that sense. Alilo, who was supposed to go back to Algeria, ends up staying in France because of unforeseen circumstances, and Mok, who makes fun of Alilo’s country, finds himself deported there. When Alilo is on the verge of departing, Mok tells him: “Je ne suis pas prêt de mettre les pieds dans ton bled.” (“I’m not ready to set foot in your country.”) I believe that this twist likely occurs because of the French law called “double peine” (“double punishment”), which punishes residents of foreign descent twice for their crimes. First, they receive punishment according to the law, and then they are deported to their home country after serving their sentence.22 Several associations in France have been fighting hard to repeal this law, but it remains in effect and has been a topic of debate among politicians in recent years. Through the character of Monsieur Maurice, the viewer also discovers another interesting aspect of the film that relates to Algeria. When the Algerian War of Independence ended in 1962, it was estimated that one million French Algerians left for France. This community included the French citizens (eighty percent of them of Spanish-Italian descent) who were born and raised in Algeria known as the Pieds-Noirs, and the Jewish Algerians whose ancestors had been living there for centuries and who were given French citizenship at the end of the nineteenth century with the Crémieux Decree. Decades after their exile to France, most became nostalgic and remained attached to the homeland. When Alilo goes to pick up his suitcase from a dress shop, the owner, Monsieur Maurice,

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entertains him with Chaabi music, mint tea, and most importantly, with memories of his childhood in the Casbah of Algiers. The majority of these Algerian-born French experience this impossibility of returning to their homeland, even for a short visit, as a longlasting wound. At the same time, they know they will never truly be at home in France. Monsieur Maurice, who begins his stories about his Algerian childhood with a smile, ends up sad and upset when he expresses his regrets about Algeria’s tragedy and how “they” massacred Algeria. He then demands that Alilo leave at once because of his emotional distress. This entire scene is an implied reference by Allouache to the disgust and contempt that millions of Algerians have been feeling since independence toward their rulers who deprived them of independence and sabotaged the country for two full consecutive generations and counting. This reference about sabotaging the country resurfaces in several of Allouache’s films. Lastly, although Salut Cousin! is a light comedy, it contains deep layers of meaning and has attracted some academic study: Mireille Rosello23, for example, did an excellent study on hospitality in this film while Andrea Flores Khalil24 analyzed the issue of its treatment of masculinity. Will Higbee and Son Hwee Lim also used Salut cousin! in their analysis of space and its importance for diasporic communities in France. “In films by Algerian émigré directors, they both argue, the local spaces and immigrant neighborhoods of Paris acquire a greater significance for their diasporic protagonists than that of the nation-state (France).”25 Speaking of space and its significance in this particular film, Réda Bensmaia devoted a very interesting book chapter to this topic in which he argued that Salut Cousin! actually functions as a struggle against repression, forgetting, and amnesia. Borrowing from historian Henri Rousso’s book The Vichy Syndrome26 and from Anne Donadey’s Recasting Postcolonialism: Women Writing Between Worlds,27 Bensmaia gives the context by explaining how the French repressed their own memory of the Algerian War, which consequently impacted the French-Algerian relationship. The mere


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presence of Algerian characters in Merzak Allouache’s film, Bensmaia argued, “functions as a veritable return of the cultural and political repressed of France and Algeria’s twinned histories.”28 In other words, the marginalized characters, such as Alilo, Fatoumata (the Guinean immigrant), and Monsieur Maurice become not just “sites of memory” but also reminders to all of the necessity for a work of “remembering and anamnesis.”

Un Amour à Paris: Ethnic Diversity and Impossible Love After his first cycle of filmmaking, which includes Omar Gatlato (1976), Adventures of a Hero (1978), and The Man Who Looked at Windows (1982), Allouache moved again to France where he worked on documentaries for several French television channels. While in France, he made his 1986 feature film Love in Paris, a light romantic comedy that also provides a penetrating look at the issues of ethnic diversity, racism, and segregation in France. This film opens a parenthesis in Allouache’s filmmaking career and initiates a series of films shot entirely in France but all with a connection to his homeland. To date, this cycle includes Love in Paris, Salut Cousin!, Chouchou, and Tata Bakhta. In one way or another, even if these films focus on issues regarding France, Allouache always finds a way to draw connections to Algeria, by alluding to or raising questions regarding Algeria. I provide some examples below in my analysis of Love in Paris. Marie, who is Algerian and has Jewish parents, arrives in Paris from Algiers in the hope of becoming a model. She stays with her father’s friend, Benoît, played by Daniel Cohn-Bendit, the symbolic figure of the May 68 movement. While working as a cashier in a food store, she meets Ali, a French-born Algerian, recently released from prison after serving a three-year sentence for robbery. It is love at first sight. The couple then moves into a hotel room in the working-class neighborhood of Belleville while trying to figure out their plans. Marie wants to succeed

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in the fashion industry, and Ali wants to go to Houston and become an astronaut. However, their dreams are cut short by societal demons and the specters of their respective pasts. At first, it is a story of an impossible love because Ali is Muslim (at least by culture) and Marie is Jewish (by birth) so in the context of that period (the early 1980s) neither religion would allow such a relationship or would at least seek to prevent it from evolving. Through their relationship, the filmmaker seems to advocate for mixing and miscegenation in a world, be it France or Algeria, where ethnic, religious, and cultural divides are the norm. Allouache also takes on racism, which has been infecting French society and its feeling about racial equality, particularly toward the Maghrebian community. In one scene, police officers are making fun of Ali and his plan of becoming an astronaut. One of them comments sarcastically that Ali will be “le premier cosmonaute bougnoule.” (“the first wog astronaut.”) In another scene, Allouache takes on the hypocrisy of French politics when dealing with the Saudis. Because of their oil money, Allouache suggests, France bows to them. In one particular scene in which characters are discussing politics, one of them says: “Messieurs les Saoudiens, on leur fait la courbette pour leur fric.” (“For their money, we easily bow to the Saudis.”) Ironically, thirty-five years later, this charge is truer than ever. The Saudi and Qatari regimes have been imposing their agendas on the West via their colossal investments. French authorities, for example, turned a blind eye on the Saudis and their financing of Salafism, which in turn contributed to the current waves of terrorism across the planet.

Chouchou: The LGBT Community, a Double Minority Chouchou is certainly the film in which Allouache relegates Algeria to a minor role so my analysis is limited to the few aspects related to Algeria. There are many reasons this film could be considered an exception in Merzak Allouache’s filmmaking career. First, he did not make the film


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by himself. The script, co-written with Gad Elmaleh and based on the latter’s stand-up comedy show Une Vie Normale (2000), was financed by France. When filmmakers receive financial support, the producers usually impose some conditions. Consequently, one can easily notice some awkwardness in this film. Allouache has a talent for comedies, as noted in chapter 1, but unlike the dark humor in some of his comedies, such as Omar Gatlato and Salut Cousin!, Chouchou’s humor is not only dry but also useless at times. Chouchou tells the story of an Algerian transvestite, Choukri (nicknamed Chouchou), who arrives in Paris pretending to be a Chilean refugee seeking asylum. His lies are quickly uncovered, but Father Léon not only lets him sleep in his church but also finds him a job as a house cleaner and secretary for Dr. Milovavitch, a Parisian psychoanalyst played by the famous actress Catherine Frot. While Chouchou is pursued in Paris by an insane police inspector, he meets both his friend and his nephew, two transvestites who are also new exiles in Paris. His nephew, nicknamed Vanessa, manages to get him a job at the Apocalypse cabaret where s/ he works. It is here that Chouchou falls in love with Stanislas, a wealthy man who is a regular customer at the club. This film, which starred other celebrated French actors, namely Alain Chabat and Claude Brasseur, met with huge success in France and could easily have placed Allouache at the highest level of sought-after directors in France had he chosen to make similar films afterwards. However, he knew that an artist must work on what is dear to his heart and on what he knows best, which, for him, was Algeria. This film simply constitutes a parenthesis in Allouache’s career. Allouache very subtly touches on Algeria in Chouchou. First, when Chouchou meets his compatriots in Paris, they immediately reminisce about their homeland and the family members they left behind. This nostalgia is obviously common to most immigrants. However, the background of Chouchou is, once again, the Algerian civil war and the thousands of Algerians who fled the country because of the Islamist violence.

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The LGBT community, in particular, suffers more because society, in its conservative forms in general, does not accept homosexuals, let alone transvestites. In his confessions, first to Dr. Milovavitch and then to Father Léon, Chouchou recounts how he was persecuted back home because of his homosexuality and that his dream to become a woman was impossible to achieve. Dr. Milovavitch immediately encourages Chouchou to fulfill this dream and lets “him/her” become a woman at her workplace. In contrast, Father Léon is flabbergasted at first when he hears Chouchou’s confession, but in the end he comes around. Similarly, the police inspector reacts with physical violence when Chouchou suggests that the inspector might be repressing his homosexuality. Again, Allouache seems to suggest that violence and intolerance are not countryspecific but are simply human nature, no matter where they live and what their nationality might be.29

Tata Bakhta: On the Cultural Difference between Algerians and the Beurs Tata Bakhta (2011) is somewhat similar to Salut Cousin! in that they both tell the story of Algerians who visit relatives in France, and they both highlight the main differences between them and the second-generation French of Algerian descent, known as Beurs. Tata Bakhta arrives at a small town in southern France, near Marseilles, to visit her cousin’s three children because their parents had just died in a car accident. Paul and Sandrine are adults, but Kevin is still a child. Tata Bakhta has several goals. First, she wants to make sure that her cousin, Arezki, is buried in a Muslim cemetery, according to the Islamic ritual. Then she wants to help her nephews and niece, using the money she had from selling her inherited land in Kabylia. Everything seems to work perfectly, despite the small cultural differences that create comedic relief, until Tata Bakhta learns that her cousin and his French wife were cremated as per their will. Bakhta’s dismay is explained by her attachment to the Islamic code, which dictates that all Muslims


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ought to be buried according to religious rituals. This dilemma, which initially infuriates Tata Bakhta, also constitutes the turning point in her metamorphosis, as she later becomes more understanding and more tolerant of her relatives’ lifestyle. As Tata Bakhta is, for the most part, a comedy, Allouache exaggerates the numerous stereotypes and clichés in the film. This exaggeration can be noticed in other comedies as well such as Chouchou and Bab el-Web and even Salut Cousin! Tata Bakhta is rough but very funny. People around her are shocked at first by her unusual and often rude attitude but quickly realize that she can be genuinely kind and motherly. Her spontaneity and naiveté remind us of Alilo’s in Salut Cousin!, but these traits come off as positive because both characters become not only likeable but also influential in their respective entourages. Tata Bakhta is also courageous and generous. When Kevin is insulted by a racist neighbor, she immediately confronts the latter and curtails his terrorizing. Furthermore, when it is time to commemorate the death of Arezki and his wife (as per Islamic tradition), she has the idea of inviting her cousins’ friends and neighbors for a couscous. In a sense, Tata Bakhta is transposing her homeland values onto the host community. This cultural exchange not only breaks the negative stereotyping of the Other but also enriches the contact, and in the end everyone comes out ahead. Tata Bakhta, for one, ends up relinquishing her religious zeal and even loses her racist attitude toward her niece’s fiancé, an African immigrant living in France. In fact, by the end of the film, she is getting along well with him, with his two newborn sons, and even with his mother, who is visiting from Africa. The host community, in turn, becomes less judgmental and more appreciative of her as a newcomer. The racist neighbor, for example, is at first very unpleasant and even aggressive. For no apparent reason, he has even assaulted Kevin whom he calls “bougnoule” (“wog”). He later completely changes his behavior thanks to his romantic relationship with Tata Bakhta.

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As in most of his films, Allouache seizes the slightest opportunity to condemn racist behaviors while he also endeavors to break all sorts of stereotypes. In so doing, he criticizes both the French and the Algerians for their shortcomings. His profound knowledge of both societies allows him to examine them from the outside. He manages to see and then pinpoint not just the flaws but also the values in each society. I turn next to another period of Algerian contemporary history, which starts with the aftermath of the Dark Decade and ends with the onset of the so-called “Arab” spring. This period corresponds roughly to the first decade of the twenty-first century (2001–2011).


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Notes 1. From the Algerian Arabic word “hrag,” meaning “to burn.” 2. Their respective novels are Harragas (Gallimard, 2005) and Partir (Gallimard, 2006). 3. Among these films: Tanger, rêves de brûleurs (Leïla Kilano, Morocco, 2002); Et Après (Mohamed Ismael, Morocco, 2002); Aéroport Hammam-Lif (Slim Ben Cheikh, Tunisia, 2007). 4. New Algerian Penal Code. 5. Hakim Abderrezak devotes a small section on this debate in his Ex-Centric Migrations (Indiana University Pres, 2016, p. 166). 6. From the 2010 Press Kit of the film, page 4: http://www.harragas-lefilm. com. 7. Based on some of my discussions with Merzak Allouache. 8. Harragas (Algeria, 2009. Director: Merzak Allouache). 9. The inclusion of the bad cop who wants to leave the country with the harragas did not please the authorities, which perceived it as a tarnished image of the country. It is perhaps for this reason too that the authorities disparaged the film. 10. “La Tchitchi” is a term in Algerian dialectal Arabic which refers to the privileged ones and who usually speak only in French and adopt a Western lifestyle. 11. From the 2010 Press Kit of the film, page 4: http://www.harragas-lefilm. com. 12. The narrator’s stream of consciousness in Harragas (Algeria, 2009. Director: Merzak Allouache). 13. Camus, Albert. Exile and the Kingdom: Short stories. Penguin, 2013. 14. His lecture at Carleton College on April 5, 2012, available on Youtube. 15. I owe this character reference to Guy Austin. 16. Trinh, Ravith. “Interview with Merzak Allouache,” Mondomix, February 27, 2010. 17. Clochard, Olivier & Philippe Rekacewicz, “Des morts par milliers aux portes de l’Europe,” in Monde diplomatique, December 2006. http://www. 18. Univerciné : 19. Hargreaves, Alec. “From ‘Ghettoes’ to Globalization: Situating Maghrebi-French Filmmakers.” In Screening Integration: Recasting

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20. 21.


23. 24. 25. 26. 27. 28. 29.


Maghrebi Immigration in Contemporary France, edited by S. Durmelat and V. Swamy. Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press, 2011, p. 26. Baudrillard, Jean. “Nique ta mère!,” in Libération, Friday, November 18, 2005, p. 35. Trabendo is a term used in derja (Algerian spoken Arabic), derived from the Spanish word, contrabendo. It refers to the black market during Algeria’s socialist era when young people would buy all kinds of items such as clothing, electronics, gifts, and even food from overseas and sell them for profit in the city streets. When these deported felons arrived in Algeria, most of them felt completely alienated. It is after all a country that they knew little about and which they had never seen before. Most did not speak the local languages, even though French is used almost everywhere in the country. Etiquette and customs are also different, which makes life, at least in the first few years, very difficult. Rosello, Mireille. “Merzak Allouache’s Salut Cousin! Immigrants, Hosts, and Parasites.” South Central Review, vol. 17, no. 3, October 2000, pp. 104–18. Khalil, Andrea Flores. “The Myth of Masculinity in the Films of Merzak Allouache.” The Journal of North African Studies, 12:3, 2007, pp. 329–345. Higbee, W., and Lim, S.H., “Concepts of transnational cinema: towards a critical transnationalism in film studies,” Transnational Cinemas, Volume 1, Number 1, 2010, pp. 7–21. Rousso, Henri. The Vichy Syndrome. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1994. Donadey, Anne. Recasting Postcolonialism: Women Writing Between Worlds. Greenwood Publishing, 2001. Bensmaïa, Réda. Experimental Nations, or the Invention of the Maghreb. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2003, p. 43. For a deeper analysis of this topic, see Mireille Rosello’s article “Dissident or Conformist Passing: Merzak Allouache’s Chouchou” in South Central Review, Vol. 28(1), 2011, pp. 2–17.

Chapter 4

A Bittersweet Passing of the Storm The Repentant, Bab el-Web, and Normal L’homme n’est pas entièrement coupable : il n’a pas commencé l’histoire ; ni tout à fait innocent, puisqu’il la continue. (Man is not entirely guilty: he did not begin history; nor is he entirely innocent, since he continues it.) —Albert Camus, L’été  L’amnistie est un acte par lequel les gouvernements pardonnent les injustices qu’ils ont commises. (Amnesty is an act by which governments forgive the injustices they have committed themselves.) —Pierre Veron, Dictionnaire des proverbes et maximes After the tragic decade of the 1990s, Algeria entered the new millennium in both a happy and a sad status. It was happy because the violence of the Dark Decade had subsided, the civil war had ended, at least officially, and a new chapter of reconciliation had begun. However, uncertainty, fear, and uneasiness remained because President Bouteflika’s government had


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not designed any plan to deal with the trauma caused by the civil war. Instead, it gave amnesty to the terrorists, allowing them to integrate into society again as if nothing had happened. Most importantly, there had been no real debate about this issue. The population, in turn, succumbed to both apathy and bitterness. In my analysis of The Repentant (2011), Bab el-Web (2004), and Normal (2011), I will examine the ways in which Merzak Allouache looks at post-2000 Algeria as it navigates between the horrors of the past, an uncomfortable present, and the prospect of a bleak future. The two epigraphs above will also serve as springboards to show how both the government and the population were somehow held responsible, albeit at different levels, for the status quo. One of the most tragic consequences of the Dark Decade is, without doubt, the trauma that most, if not all, Algerians experienced during and after that decade. The Islamist violence of the 1990s broke Algerian society’s social fabric. Most families throughout the country are still suffering from post-traumatic stress. Other families simply fell apart because of their tragic losses. In this context, the couple in The Repentant is a microcosmic representation of Algeria after the décennie noire as I will explain in the following analysis of the film.

Contextual Background President Bouteflika was rather lucky when he came to power in 1999 because in a way he was the beneficiary of what his predecessor, Liamine Zéroual, had already done to stop the violence of the civil war. In fact, 1999 is considered as the beginning of the end of the infamous Dark Decade. Immediately after he was sworn in as president in 1999, Bouteflika proposed the Concorde Civile, an amnesty law that would pardon Islamists who renounced terrorism and had not committed certain crimes during the civil war. This Concorde Civile solidified the deal between the Islamic jihadists and the regime, which had been reached under former

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President Zéroual. The Concorde also offered amnesty, compensation, and employment to those “repentis” (repentants) who laid down their weapons and surrendered to the police. However, because of the growing demands of the families of those who had disappeared, of pressure from various international human rights associations, and the fears of prosecution from some military and intelligence leaders, Bouteflika controversially passed the Charte pour la Paix et la Réconciliation Nationale (Charter for Peace and National Reconciliation)1 in 2005. This Charter, which offered compensation to victims of state terror, blocked any prosecution of state agents for their actions during the “national tragedy” and also gave the president powers to offer amnesty on an ad hoc basis. This so-called Charter was implemented in order to put an end to the violence, but it rejected the claim that Algerian security forces were likewise guilty of abusive acts against the population.2 Furthermore, the government did not take into consideration the psychological effects on the population in this process. It compensated the families of the victims of terrorism financially, but obviously human loss and tragedy transcend the material level. There are conditions for a reconciliation policy to be successful. One cannot simply erase, with a stroke of a pen, an entire period of traumatic violence and expect the victims to recover and forget without any institutional support. One country where this process was carried out, more or less successfully, was post-Apartheid South Africa. In this respect, a freelance Tunisian journalist, Kamel Labidi, reported the following anecdote about the Tunisian ex-president Moncef Marzouki. He went to South Africa to learn about its reconciliation process, and upon his return, declared: There are four conditions for the success of national reconciliation: you need genuine political will, expressed by a general amnesty law, passed by a parliament representing different political forces; you also need highly respected figures like Desmond Tutu, to back the reconciliation process. Then you need the presence of the perpetrators of violence who should publicly acknowledge their


Algeria on Screen crimes and ask for amnesty. Last, full reparation for the victims or their families should be guaranteed.3

It must be stated that none of these conditions existed in Algeria’s case. Bouteflika’s government came up with the Civil Concord Law in 1999 and helped it pass via a questionable referendum, offering amnesty to both “terrorists” and “agents of the state” for acts committed during the Dark Decade. The authorities then wanted to swiftly turn the page and forget the past. The population was indeed ready to move toward a peaceful reconciliation period, but many people also wanted a debate and a transition process, whereby the entire population and the surviving victims of the tragedy, in particular, could heal appropriately. Dialogue can be a healing process and words can help exorcise the demons of the past. Countries that went through violent conflicts, such as South Africa and Rwanda, resorted to debates in their respective processes of reconciliation, but Algeria remained silent on the subject and content with initiatives by the various associations for the victims of terrorism. In the same report, Labidi added that: Unlike, for example, Nelson Mandela in South Africa, Bouteflika denies Algerians the right to truth and justice, which are essential keys to lasting peace and national reconciliation…The tragedy of Algeria and much of the Arab world is that no Mandelas can be found. Most Arab leaders seem so enmeshed in serious human rights violations and abuse of power that they, naturally, fear the outcome of a national reconciliation process.4 Labidi is correct in asserting that truth and justice are primary elements in securing “peace and national reconciliation” and that most leaders in the Arab world have things to hide when it comes to human rights issues and therefore are not interested in following regular protocols. However, I disagree with the journalist’s opinion that “no Mandelas can be found in Algeria” because this charge does not take into account the political engagement of high-caliber opposition leaders, political figures, and independent intellectuals.5 Unfortunately, despite their resilience,

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these figures could not overcome the government’s severity. Some were silenced by force, others were exiled or imprisoned, while the most unfortunate were simply killed. The government then imposed a kind of omertà about some issues regarding the civil war. The population obviously resented it but, at the same time, was simply too exhausted from the terrible and tragic civil war that had just ended. The artist’s role is precisely to refuse amnesia and remind the population not to give in so easily. It is in this context that Merzak Allouache decided to make a film about reconciliation, based on an actual story he read about in a newspaper.

The Repentant: Against Silence and Amnesia Interviewed by Tewfik Hakem for his radio show on France Culture,6 Merzak Allouache confessed that what drove him to make The Repentant was the silence around the whole issue of national reconciliation. While one can easily understand the population’s preference to forget the horrors of the civil war, the filmmaker seems to suggest that Algerians cannot just pretend as if nothing had happened. Algerians, Allouache believes, should also question this government’s Policy of Pardon and Reconciliation. In May 2012, he said: In 1999, when I returned to Algeria after seven years of absence, I found a country in the midst of an amazing, unreal, optimism. The violence was beginning to pull back. A policy of “civil concord” was put forward to the Algerian people, to allow, supposedly, a total end of violence. We learned through the press that secret contacts were made between the army and the Islamists, who were underground, that would quickly allow their return home and put an end to massacres, ambushes, and bomb attacks… The Algerians discovered a new word: “repentant,” which designated those who laid down arms and placed themselves under the authority of the state. With a wounded country, the state encouraged its people to forget, to reconcile… I wondered how the families of thousands of victims of horror would react to this new situation as, by the


Algeria on Screen hundreds, terrorists left the underground claiming they did not have “blood on their hands.” As “good business” picked up… we were all becoming “brothers” again, as if by magic…7

When Allouache went back to his homeland for a short visit in that period of “peace,” he found a story in a newspaper about a couple whose daughter had been kidnapped and killed by the terrorists. When the amnesty began, one repentant contacted the parents and offered to show them their daughter’s burial place in exchange for money. Allouache gives us the context: It was during this “euphoric” period that I discovered a small article telling the terrible story of a man who was contacted by a “repentant.” He was offered a horrible deal. The man, shocked, wrote a letter to the newspaper. Then nothing… Had he accepted? This story haunted me so that I decided to make this film in today’s Algeria where amnesia is prevalent, the artificial optimism is gone, and where in certain regions the terrorist violence is still as deadly with the corollary repression and restrictions of liberties. In this film, I try, quite simply, to imagine the future of this policy of “civil concord” after such hatred.8 The Repentant helps us think about the questions around this policy of “civil concord.” How can one move from horrific violence to complete silence and pardon with a simple stroke of a pen? Can this law erase, and in such a swift manner, the memory of a tragedy, which has not quite ended yet? What about the families of the victims? How must both the state and the population deal with the instinct for revenge? Why should not the criminals be held accountable and face justice? Is healing from that tragedy possible, without using words to exorcise the violence? Clearly, Allouache’s objective with this film is to open a space for debate and dialogue in society, albeit unofficially. Because the state declines to engage in this debate, cinema can provide some leeway for public discussions. Discussing The Repentant, Allouache declares: “On a travaillé cette histoire en marge de cette culture officielle, qui est une

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culture de déni, une culture de la censure et du discours politique.”9 (“We worked on this story on the margins of official culture, which is a culture of denial, a culture of censorship and of political discourse.”) To make things worse, the authorities put more pressure on the media to avoid covering the “invisible war.”10 According to Guy Austin, censorship has even increased during that time period, and in 2005 Bouteflika’s government has come up with a new Peace Charter that “was passed despite dissent and protest.”11 Clearly, the government had things to hide. Some people even believed that the state was too indulgent vis-à-vis the terrorists because government officials wanted to avoid accusations about the crimes that their agents might have committed during the conflict. This belief has been corroborated by many historians and journalists, both in Algeria and abroad. In their book, Algeria: Anger of the Dispossessed, Evans and Philips argue that: Theoretically, this amnesty was only extended to those not guilty of rape, murder or terrorism, but in reality, few questions were asked and there was little way of verifying the official figures. The whole process was deliberately opaque, partly, many suspected, because this allowed any double agents to disappear into obscurity.12 In addition, the situation of cinema in Algeria has been lamentable during the last twenty-five years. Allouache, who had enjoyed the thriving cinematic culture in Algeria during the first two decades following independence, expressed pessimism but refused to disengage. In an interview on Le Repenti (The Repentant), he explains that his film: Se veut une tentative de dialogue sociétal, mais malheureusement, l’état du cinéma en Algérie, la disparition du public, l’absence de débat démocratique, l’état de déliquescence des associations, font que je n’aurai pas les riches débats que j’ai vécus autour de mes autres films. Alors parler d’un tabou, dénoncer des choix, raconter des souffrances, faire jouer à ce film son rôle, me semble pour l’instant utopique. Ce qui ne signifie pas qu’il faille baisser


Algeria on Screen les bras… Je considère qu’en tant que cinéaste, j’ai un devoir d’engagement.13 Is an attempt for societal dialogue, but unfortunately, the state of cinema in Algeria, the disappearance of the public, the absence of a democratic debate, and the decline of associations had made it such that I would not have the rich debates about my other films. So, talking about a taboo, denouncing some choices, telling about some sufferings, endowing this film with its role, seem utopian for now. This does not mean giving up… I believe that as a filmmaker, I have the duty to commitment.

It is true that, due mostly to the Dark Decade, Algerians have abandoned movie theaters, and the debates that used to follow film screenings disappeared long ago. The authorities have not done anything to revive that culture of cinema. Most movie theaters have closed and others are used for other purposes. In addition, DVDs and the Internet have obviously changed the landscape of cinema worldwide. The debates about the films, which used to take place in the movie theatres, are now happening online. The celebrated Algerian film critic and producer Ahmed Bedjaoui offers a detailed explanation of this situation in our exchange on Algerian cinema.14

Synopsis and Analysis The Repentant (2011) takes place in the Algerian high flatlands, immediately after the Dark Decade. While Allouache was inspired by actual events, he fictionalized the story and succeeded in writing one of his best scripts so far. The film tells the story of Rachid, a young Jihadist, who has just left the mountains to return to his village, following the recent law “of pardon and national harmony,” decreed by then-president Abdelaziz Bouteflika. The film starts with Rachid running in a snowcovered plain. He is obviously fleeing something, which the viewer does not discover until Rachid arrives home and tells his parents about it. His next step is to surrender to the police and to give up his weapon. He

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thus receives amnesty and becomes a “repentant.” However, the weight of the past is still hovering over him. Society is not ready to accept him. His only option for survival is to leave quickly but he has no money. While working in a coffee shop in a nearby town, he designs an unusual plan to escape overseas. The Repentant includes most of the ingredients that make for a good thriller, such as ellipses and deferment of information. Unlike in his other films, Allouache constantly defers details in The Repentant in order to create mystery and build suspense. For example, when Rachid goes to the police station to “repent,”15 the police detective explains the procedure to him and then asks him for a favor, about which the viewer has no clue until later in the film, when the chief of the police goes to see him at the coffee shop to get a report. Only then do the viewers understand that Rachid was offered a job in the coffee shop so he can spy on customers. This tactic is an old one that the state security system has been using since the 1960s and which the Algerians recognize immediately. The Repentant has no soundtrack, and dialogue is reduced to a minimum. According to Allouache, the film is already too dark, so there was no need for music to make it melodramatic.16 Nonetheless, there is an astounding silence (both human and natural) throughout the entire film, which parallels the silence around the amnesty issue. Most of the characters in this film look worn down and depressed, most likely because of the traumatic decade they had just gone through. Allouache, who excels in using humor in his films, did not include a single smile in The Repentant. In sum, the topic is so serious that the film does not lend itself to the slightest sign of humor.

The Couple as a Microcosmic Representation of Algeria In the film Lakhdar and Djamila, the parents of the murdered girl are separated, which is a consequence of their tragic loss. They had formed


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a successful and harmonious couple until the day terrorism destroyed their lives forever. Djamila, who still cannot let go of the past, blames Lakhdar for what happened to their daughter. Lakhdar blames Djamila for running away and leaving him. Lakhdar’s only comfort comes from alcohol and a strange Chinese TV program. He, too, seems to be still in mourning. When Djamila asks him why he wants to go back to the past, he replies, “no need to go back, I’m still there [the past].” From the very beginning of the film, an ominous atmosphere makes the viewer sense that the couple’s relationship is not ordinary. When Lakhdar is first contacted by the repentant, he immediately calls Djamila who now lives and works as a doctor in another city. The viewer discovers the reasons behind her separation with Lakhdar only later in the film when she comes at his request. He apparently had something very important to tell her. The deferment of meaning also works well through characterization. Her knowledge about the repentant’s offer to show them their daughter’s grave is revealed slowly and in small pieces. At first, Djamila does not know why Lakhdar “summoned” her, but she takes some time off work and drives to her former home. After she arrives, the viewer gets a sense of Djamila and Lakhdar’s separation, first through their attitudes and then through their brief and cold conversations. During this sequence, the viewer discovers that Djamila had left Lakhdar after their daughter’s death. These techniques of accumulation and delayed meaning allow the viewer to feel closer to the couple and hence share their pain and sorrow.

Against the Stereotypical Portrayal of the Terrorist One of Allouache’s feats with this film is the portrayal of the repentant. While this terrorist is repugnant (due to both his past and his motive), Allouache chose not to present him as the archetypal monstrous terrorist but as a human being who belongs “to this hopeless and uneducated generation, caught up against its will in the whirlwind of the tragedy,

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which Algeria has just gone through.” I explained in chapter 2, how a similar character, Hakim, the terrorist in The Other World, epitomizes the disoriented and helpless youths who easily fall prey to the hawks of the Islamist movement. Rachid is presented as a pitiful product of society. He is poor, uneducated, jobless, and adrift. His home village lives in abject poverty. This image alone is a testimony to the iniquity that most Algerians undergo because of a government that has totally forgotten them despite the wealth and natural resources. In several scenes, Rachid gazes at the TV set and looks as amazed and amused as a child. When he sees the teenage girl who passes by the coffee shop on her way back and forth from school, Rachid feels attracted to her and cannot concentrate. He has no idea how to follow on his feelings for the teenage girl. After all, he had just spent several years in the mountains in the company of only male terrorists17. These young people were not religious at first, but they became indoctrinated by extremist groups who exploit their vulnerability and turn them into cannon fodder. In chapter 3, I gave examples from both Bab el-Oued City (1993) and The Other World (2000) to illustrate how this indoctrination has played out.18 In the next chapter, I explain in detail this brainwashing and the dire consquences. Interestingly enough, Allouache refuses to judge his character Rachid. Instead, he places him in a context in which one is not born a terrorist but becomes one. The media and politicians usually refuse to look at this problem, and that is why they harshly criticized Allouache for his depiction of Rachid. However, a filmmaker is not and must not be a judge but a creator of characters. It is up to the viewers to make their own judgments on the issues at hand.

For Remembrance, but not Revenge Allouache also seems to condemn revenge. While he questions the government’s reconciliation policy and pardon, he refuses to overlook


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the issue of revenge against the repentants. Even though the law calls for punishing anyone who harms a “repentant,” some people took it upon themselves to carry out their own justice by killing repentants. In the film, we see Rachid attacked twice by a man from the same village whose family was apparently killed by the terrorists during the civil war. While the family and the neighbors intervene to protect him during the first attempt, Rachid finds himself cornered a second time in the middle of the night by his assailant whom he ends up killing in self-defense. Furthermore, just before this particular scene, Rachid’s father informs him that Saïd, another repentant in the village, had just been killed at his home and in front of his wife and young children. This dialogue is not arbitrary in the film, and it should, in my view, be interpreted as a signal to stop the cycle of violence. The repentant’s spouse and children, after all, had nothing to do with this debacle. They are themselves victims of the tragic situation. This particular problem is another consequence of the “civil concord” law, which left thousands of angry Algerians feeling that justice had not been served and that it was their responsibility to impose it. Obviously, the law cannot erase such crimes in the collective memory. One might ask Algerians to forgive but certainly not to forget. The final scene, showing the few terrorists who remained in the maquis, illustrates that terrorism has not completely disappeared despite the official end of the civil war. Some terrorists have indeed opted to stay in the mountains. This raises the question about their motive and makes us wonder if they are not simply serving as pawns in the destabilizing game of the regime whenever they are needed. The tragic ending of the story also hints at the inevitable failure of the government’s reconciliation policy.

Other Pieces of the Puzzle Allouache excels in inserting seemingly unrelated elements into the script without ruining the coherence of the story. There are many important aspects in Algeria’s contemporary history that Allouache addresses in

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this film. These references, which exist in most of his films, serve as doorways to other topics, but the filmmaker never digresses to the point of spoiling the script. After all, everything is intertwined in Algerian society. In this respect, Allouache’s films reflect this complexity, and in order to make a better sense of it one must consider all the pieces of the puzzle. The Repentant is no exception. When Djamila arrives at her former apartment, she goes through her old stuff and finds two books. One is titled “Algeria” and features a photo of a child on the cover. The other book is Cahier noir d’octobre, published by the Comité National Contre la Torture (Algiers, 1989). This book is a compilation of testimonies by people who were tortured after the October 1988 riots. One might ask why this is important in the context of the film. In principle, the viewer can disregard this detail and the story will still be the same. However, Allouache invites us to look at the whole picture. In other words, he pinpoints the book, but by doing so he alludes to the injustices that were committed even before the Dark Decade, which have never been dealt with. Besides, it would be wrong to examine events in isolation if one wants to make sense of what has become of post-independence Algeria. This reference to a book about torture helps explain why the authorities reacted so violently to the film, accusing it of being ambiguous and unclear because they sensed that a finger was being pointed at them. In addition to being held responsible by some Algerians for at least some of the terrorist violence, the government is also seen as accountable for what became of Algeria’s youth in the last few decades. Aside from terrorism, the last two generations have known violent riots, clandestine migration (harraga), suicide, and drug addiction, among other ills. Chapter 5 tackles in detail some of these issues. Other references are also used in this film. They might seem trivial and unrelated to a Western viewer, but they are not inadvertent and serve as reminders to the authorities of their responsibilities toward the population. For instance, when Lakhdar, a pharmacist, first appears, the topic of medication shortages dominates the sequence. His phone


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discussion with the medical supplier in the capital city testifies to the corruption in this field. Tired of the false promises, Lakhdar admonishes him and accuses him of theft and lying. Moreover, when Djamila arrives at Lakhdar’s home, she asks if the water supply is still an issue to which Lakhdar responds by saying that it has worsened since she left. Last but not least, this film also reveals, just beneath the surface, the theme of modernity and globalization, which took Algerians by surprise, especially the repentant, who had been in the mountains and out of society for some years. When Rachid first arrives in the city, he looks bedazzled and even trips when he gets out of the bus. More importantly, when he turns on the television set after work, he marvels at all the programs in several languages. In the early years of the twenty-first century, Algeria has seen a swift intrusion of global culture that will change the political and social landscape later on. Chapter 5 outlines these developments in detail. This last point is a segue to my analysis of another Merzak Allouache film, Bab el-Web, which covers the period between the end of the civil war (1999–2000) and the year when the film was made (2004).

Bab el-Web: Connecting France and Algeria Merzak Allouache came up with the idea to shoot Bab el-Web (2004) when he went to Algeria in 2002 to present his successful comedy, Chouchou, the story of an Algerian transvestite in Paris, featuring Gad Elmaleh. The context behind Bab el-Web is somewhat strange and yet very interesting because immediately after the end of the Dark Decade there was a feeling of relief, openness, and hope. The memory and trauma of that tragedy were still alive among Algerians, but at the same time people felt that a new and happier (or rather less tragic) phase was underway. Merzak Allouache, too, believed that there could be some positive change despite the debates around the reconciliation process. However, that atmosphere of optimism hid the fact that some issues remained unresolved. One

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such important issue concerns the youth and their daily life. Allouache had already addressed this issue several times but in different contexts. After the apathy of the 1970s (chapter 1) and the specter of Islamic fundamentalism in the 1990s (chapter 2), Allouache turned his lens on the new preoccupations of the youth in the early years of the twentyfirst century. With the advent of the Internet worldwide, Algeria has witnessed the phenomenon of Internet addiction. This was facilitated by the government’s program to help the youth create small businesses, among them, cybercafés, which became a haven for young people who manage to find a whiff of evasion and freedom in them. At the end of the film, Bouzid, the protagonist, says: “Lorsque l’ordinateur s’allume, c’est comme si je respirais de l’air pur, voilà! Parce que là-haut, j’étouffe. C’est tout!” (“When the computer is turned on, it is like breathing fresh air. Because upstairs [at home], I suffocate. That’s that!”). These internet cafés have become places where many young people would spend most of their time in chat rooms as a way to escape their daily routine but also to find a way to connect with people overseas in the hope of leaving someday. Such is the case with Bouzid, the protagonist in Bab el-Web. The title of the film was inspired by an actual cybercafé, also called Bab el-Web. The title is a play on words. Bab el-Oued is the name of the neighborhood where Allouache himself was born and which he had already immortalized in his two celebrated films, Omar Gatlato (1975) and Bab el-Oued City (1993). Therefore, by replacing “oued” (which means river in Arabic) by “web,” the filmmaker encapsulates the essence of the entire story in two words. As explained in chapter 2, the conditions in which Allouache shot Bab el-Oued City (1993) were horrific,19 but by 2004 the violence had ended and the atmosphere became more relaxed. In addition, thanks to the funding generated by the success of Chouchou, Allouache decided to shoot in cinemascope. It even enabled him to use a helicopter to shoot some panoramic views. It was his way of giving back to Algiers the true


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image it deserves. The glamorous image of “Alger, la blanche” (“Algiers, the white city”) had been tarnished by that long decade of violence.

Synopsis and Analysis Bouzid, a young man, lives in the working-class neighborhood of Bab elOued with his family. In his apartment building, there is a cybercafé, Bab el-Web, where he spends most of his time chatting on the Internet with young French women whom he invites to Algiers. One day, he receives an email from one of them, Laurence, who obviously took his invitation seriously and tells him that she will be visiting in a week’s time. What seems to be good news turns out to be a complex situation for Bouzid. First, the apartment where he and his family live is too small. Second, he does not have the means to offer proper hospitality. He now needs help from his older brother Kamel, a depressed man who spends his time smoking weed and selling cigarettes in the street for a living. A series of obstacles and adventures awaits them as they attempt to prepare for the young woman’s visit.

Between a Rock and a Hard Place Unlike the other two films in this chapter, Bab el-Web is a light comedy. However, under the surface, several crucial issues are examined, albeit briefly. The problem of double identity is one of them. Thousands of French citizens of Algerian descent have found themselves trapped in Algeria against their will. It is their parents’ country, but not theirs. It is also the case of those who were deported from France due to the law of “double peine” (“double punishment”) passed by the French Minister of Interior Charles Pasqua (as discussed in chapter 3). These “bi-nationaux” (“dual citizens”) feel rejected by their home country (France) while feeling no sense of belonging to their host country (Algeria) so they live in limbo, hence their alienation and anguish. The nicknames given to them (“beur” in France, and “immigrés” in Algeria)

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are obviously derogatory. In one scene, Kamel, who takes this reference as an insult, stands up to the mafia chief, asking him to stop calling them “les immigrés” (“the immigrants”). A similar theme concerns those Algerians who worked and lived in France for a long time. Many decided without the consent of their families to move back to Algeria after retiring because of nostalgia. Consequently, their spouses and children find themselves trapped and lost in the host country. Bouzid and Kamel are a case in point. Bouzid explains to Laurence that his father brought them to Algeria after ten years in France and then hid their passports so they would not be able to go back to France. Their adaptation to the host country turns out to be extremely difficult as they constantly feel like strangers in a strange land. Ironically, Laurence had the same problem except that her French mother managed to get her family back to France, leaving the father behind, for it turns out that Laurence is the offspring of a mixed marriage. After independence in 1962, many Algerian men married French women and then came back to live in Algeria with their European wives. In most cases, these marriages ended in separation or divorce. In some of his films, such as Salut Cousin! and The Man Who Looks at Windows, Allouache uses fantasy and dream techniques to reinforce and exaggerate the issues in question. In Bab el-Web, the insane and suicidal woman seems to find happiness only through her dreams. As a way to escape reality, she often daydreams. In one scene, she pictures herself as a beauty queen. When reality becomes too overwhelming for characters in distress, dreams and fantasy take over to bring relief, albeit temporarily. For example, when the situation became too harsh to bear for Alilo and Mok in Salut Cousin!, they are both seen daydreaming that they are flying over Paris on a motorcycle. This fantasy gives them the short-lived illusion that they reign over Paris. The film also includes a few cultural references, each worth a brief explanation. The first one is about the presence of Christian and Jewish cemeteries in Algeria (a reference that reappears in the 2013 film, The


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Rooftops. See chapter 5). When Laurence asks Bouzid’s sister if she has a boyfriend, the latter replies that she has two lovers. She meets one in a Jewish cemetery and the other in a Christian cemetery because they are “les endroits les plus tranquilles d’Alger” (“the quietest places in Algiers”). Since nobody visits these cemeteries and nobody takes care of them, they have become secret meeting places for lovers. The last part of the film features a sheep fight, from which Kamel’s ram emerges victorious. While this reference seems like a trivial detail, Allouache, who discovered the existence of this semi-clandestine sport in the early 2000s, wanted to include it in his film as a way of gauging youths’ daily life in a society. Because they are totally abandoned by the authorities, they rely on various types of vice and criminal activities like sheep fights to survive. In addition to radical Islam (chapter 2), the harraga phenomenon and suicide (chapter 3), violent riots (chapter 4), and crime and drug addiction (chapter 5), clandestine gambling constitutes a new way out of the daily routine for the unemployed youth. Young people without jobs are commonly referred to by the sarcastic nickname of “hittistes,” a word that combines dialectal Arabic (hit, meaning wall) and the French suffix “iste.” It is used to designate those who idly stand, backs to the wall, all day long with no purpose and nothing to do. The last reference pertains to the issue of languages. When Bouzid tries to correct his mother’s French by saying that according to the cybercafé owner Tchoutch, “hospitalité” should be pronounced and spelled “hospitalita,” his mother angrily replies that Tchoutch is an “analphabète trilingue” (“a trilingual illiterate”). This expression is used in Algeria to designate an entire generation of people, sabotaged by the politics of arabization, which led to their lack of mastery of any of the languages in practice (French, Arabic, and derja, the spoken Algerian language20). Lastly, it is important to reiterate that the context behind Bab el-Web is somewhat particular. It was a period when Algeria came out of a terrible civil war and Algerians started to believe that a new era was coming and

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that they could once again enjoy life. During those few years (2000–2004), doors started to open again. Some Algerians of the diaspora returned home, some foreigners came for investment purposes, and academic institutions started welcoming students, professors and researchers. This short-lived openness gives the film its optimistic overtone. In fact, of all the films that Allouache made in Algeria, Bab el-Web is undoubtedly the least somber.21 Of course, things went downhill again after that, as we shall see in the analysis of Normal! (2011) below, and in chapter 5.

Normal!: When Nothing Seems Normal In the context of the Arab Spring, Algerians were ready for everything, except to go through another violent civil war. Those who wondered why Algeria did not follow the “Arab Spring” movements either forget or ignore that Algeria had experienced a traumatic decade in the 1990s, in addition to the Algerian War of Liberation (1954–62), and all the revolts in between (the October 1988 riots and the revolts in Kabylia in 1963, 1980,22 and 2001). In less than half a century, the population went through too many wars and too much violence. However, the Algerian people were not dormant during the Arab Spring. Hundreds of riots and peaceful marches took place in the first few months of 2011. The May 12, 2011, edition of the francophone daily newspaper, El Watan, reported that the Direction Générale de la Sureté Nationale (Main Office for National Security) counted 520 marches and sit-ins across the country in the month of March alone. So, there was social turmoil, but the protests were organized in separate socio-professional categories, including students, doctors, teachers, and even militia (which the authorities hired in the 1990s to help fight the terrorists). The lack of unity between these groups perhaps constitutes another reason why the expected revolt did not take place. The film’s title, Normal! seems simple but deserves an explanation since it alludes to an entire concept in Algerian society. This term, which is obviously French, has its typical use in Algeria’s colloquial Arabic and


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is used in various situations when an explanation is often hard, if not impossible, to find. Merzak Allouache explains this concept : “Normal” est un terme utilisé très fréquemment dans le langage populaire algérien et particulièrement chez les jeunes. Lorsqu’on ne trouve pas de réponse à une question, c’est ce mot qui apparaît. Normal, C’est le symbole du fatalisme, d’une fatigue intellectuelle et du désarroi qui étrangle une grande partie de la jeunesse algérienne qui supporte une “mal-vie” phénoménale et un quotidien morne et banal, le dégoutage comme on dit là-bas.23

“Normal” is a term used very frequently in popular Algerian language, particularly among the youth. When an answer to a question is not possible, it is the word that comes up. Normal is the symbol of fatalism, of intellectual fatigue, and of disenchantment that are strangling a lot of young Algerians who have to put up with a phenomenal “anxiety,” as well as a trite and dismal daily life that leads to a form of disgust, or dégoutage as people say over there. This concept of “mal-vie” (“bad life”) runs through most of Allouache’s films and mostly concerns the successive generations of young Algerians since independence. I will explain below how this concept applies to the film Normal! in the context of the “Arab” Spring.

Contextual Background Normal! (2011) was shot during the same time period as The Repentant. As I explained in chapter 3, Harragas was made in 2009, the year when the Algerian authorities decided to cut their support for Allouache. So, because of numerous obstacles (sabotage, censorship, financial difficulties) and the prevailing atmosphere of uncertainty at that time, Allouache changed his filmmaking methods. For instance, he used simpler equipment, smaller film crews, and fewer days of shooting. He was also very discrete about

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his film project and shot mostly in secure locations, such as rooftops, his own apartment in Algiers and the High Plateaus desert. With these two films (Normal! and The Repentant) Allouache proves that one can easily make good movies with modest means. Normal! faced the same, if not worse, widespread criticism as The Repentant because now some journalists and film amateurs turned their criticism to personal attacks. Allouache and his crew were insulted and assaulted during a film festival in Oran when they presented Normal! The headline of an Algerian daily went so far as to declare that “Merzak Allouache harms journalists.”24 Once again, this critical reception only confirmed Allouache’s conviction to keep making films that tell the truth, which obviously bothers not just the authorities but the media as well. To this condemnation, he replied: “I will do my best to make sure the movie is screened in Algeria without censorship. Only then will the audience know who is harming and who is serving Algeria.”25 The initial title of this film was Welcome Africa because it was meant as a documentary on the 2009 Pan-African Festival of Algiers. In that context, Allouache wanted to examine the issue of censorship by inserting the story of a young playwright and the obstacles he faces while attempting to stage his play. The film remained incomplete until 2011 when Allouache received some financial help for post-production from the Doha Institute. He decided to finish the film, but the political context had changed since 2009. In the wake of the Arab Spring, Algeria was on alert and demonstrations were taking place on a daily basis in Algiers and across the country. Allouache decided to gather his actors and finish the film with the new political context in mind. The result was a blend of fiction and reality, of changes to the script and improvised dialogue, and of events from 2009 and 2011 in which the Pan-African Festival becomes only a backdrop to a much bigger story.


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Synopsis and Analysis Normal! is a reflection on Algerian politics in the context of the Arab Spring. Following the riots of December 2011 and the peaceful demonstrations in Algeria, Fouzi, who is Allouache’s alter ego, wants to gather his actors and show them an unedited film he made a few years earlier on the desperate situation of young artists who wanted to express their ideas. A conversation follows on the nature of the protests during that period (2011), comparing it to those of the previous two decades when rioters were beaten to death by the police. The Algiers riots in October 1988 and the 2001 revolt in Kabylia are cases in point. So, all these events made the youths weary, while remaining conscious that this atmosphere of the Arab Spring was an opportunity to provoke change. Before the opening credits roll, a text appears and prepares the viewer for a better understanding of this docu-fiction. The text reads: This film is fiction, but it comes from the bitter reality of the young in Algeria. Young women and men are victims of the bad life, everyday living conditions, which are miserable, and the absence of hope… “Algeria Democratic and Free” is more than a slogan written on a banner. It is the aspiration of all these young people who, in spite of their anguish and feelings of helplessness, believe that a true change can be brought about. In fact, the film begins and ends with the same slogan: “Algeria is Free and Democratic.” It is a recurring questioning of the status quo, but it is also, as Allouache argued, a sign of both anxiety and hope among the youth who now realize that their involvement in the sociopolitical arena is necessary if they want to control their destiny. One particular scene features a slogan “Dinosaurs, get out!” referring to the old members of le Pouvoir who have been in power since independence in 1962. Similarly, the slogan “Algeria is free and democratic” is a way of countering the ongoing censorship and dictatorship. It is also the

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aspiration of the youths who, in spite of their uncertainty and feelings of helplessness, believe that true change will eventually take place. This film raises several questions. What is the role of the artist in society today? How do you express the people’s concerns when riots do not bring about change? Who should act? Is the sacrifice worth it? Merzak Allouache himself had dealt with these very questions in his youth a few decades earlier. One part of the answer seems to come from the bitter older man (played by Ahmed Benaissa), who says: “En tout cas, tu parles on te tue, tu te la fermes on te tue.” (“In any case, you get killed when you speak, and you get killed when you do not speak.”) This phrase is attributed to the famous writer and journalist, Tahar Djaout, assassinated in March 1993. Djaout’s version, however, includes the following words: “Alors, dis et meurs.” (“Then, speak and die.”)26 The discussion between the actors is both relevant and interesting. Fouzi’s questions to his friends mirror the film’s message: How do you claim your rights in today’s Algeria? How can the youth make their voices heard? Is another protest viable? Will the sacrifice be worth it? For the playwright, it is up to each individual to fight in his/her own domain. His main concern is to see the emergence of a real union for artists that would claim and defend their rights. His friends disagree and argue that everything is intertwined in Algerian society. One cannot be concerned only with issues of freedom of expression and censorship and ignore other socioeconomic and political problems. The friends insist that all these problems are part of the common cause. In this debate about new modes of fighting and resisting, Fouzi reminds his friends that social networks, namely YouTube and Facebook, are the carriers of the revolts in Tunisia and Egypt. According to him, riots in the streets are becoming inefficient and obsolete, a viewpoint that another character refutes. For her the problem lies not with the riots themselves because she believes they can still bring change. The blame falls on the media that does not cover the riots sufficiently and appropriately.


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While The Repentant is marked by silence and lack of dialogue, Normal! is the complete opposite. Dialogue carries the entire weight of the film, and the background noise predominates throughout the entire film (city traffic, incessant whirring of the helicopter, music from the rock band, street riots, etc.) The dialogue is also very rich in this cinéma-vérité film, in which the conversations seem natural and even improvised.27

Institutional and Self-censorships Multiple times during the film a helicopter flies over the neighborhood and often drowns out the conversation between the protagonists, purposely preventing viewers from hearing parts of the dialogue. Allouache seems to suggest that this disturbing noise functions as a kind of censorship, and that the characters (and the viewers) are always potentially under surveillance. In addition, it is also true that due partly to a long tradition of censorship, artists, including filmmakers, tend to censor themselves. In a way, self-censorship is as bad, if not worse, than official censorship. In this semi-fictional, semi-documentary drama, Allouache offers us a fresher look at this issue of censorship and explores the ways young filmmakers can carry out their creative projects in Algeria. Allouache also examines the issue of traditional conservatism, which in itself constitutes a mode of censorship. In one scene, a bureaucrat representing the Ministry of Culture expresses clearly her distaste for the play and denies it approval because it “does not fit with our AraboIslamic tradition.” The play, according to her, is not only subversive but might even create riots. She even threatens the theater crew with a legal suit. In fact, Allouache seizes every opportunity in most of his films to attack the burdensome and suffocating tradition that he identifies in Algerian society. In this film, the scenes involving beer-drinking and kissing, for example, became problematic to both the authorities and the people, including some of the actors themselves. In one scene, a small theater crew meets with the female governmental official who tells them that their play cannot be authorized because of excessive drinking

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and other taboos. This is, of course, ironic because the issue of beerdrinking cannot possibly hide the real problems, such as governmental corruption, censorship, and violence. Allouache also points a finger at the hypocrisy of some conservative groups. A young director making a film (within the film) appears scolding one of the actors for hesitating to properly kiss an actress, and yet when she sees her husband, also an actor in that same film, kiss another actress, she becomes angry and shows her close-minded attitude. Another interesting example concerns the character of the playwright who tries to blackmail the governmental official into approving his play by saying that if the official does not give the approval, the playwright will make public the news that her son plays “rock satanique” (“satanical rock”) and hence brings shame to her family. These examples might seem trivial, but Allouache is inviting us to reexamine the dominant public discourse on what is decent and what is bad in society. The older man in the film believes that mindsets also need to change. Commenting on an article from an Arabic daily newspaper, he wonders why people were shocked by the semi-nudity of the African women who were dancing in the Algiers Pan-African Festival. This kind of taboo must also be eradicated from society. Additionally, Amina calls into question the hypocrisy of some men when it comes to patriarchal and conservative tradition. She even blames her own husband, Fouzi, for not being congruent. Fouzi, she argues, cannot fight against censorship and prevent her from going out at the same time. For her, Fouzi’s desire to please his parents by keeping her inside the house for “safety” reasons does not make sense. She also questions why people cannot understand that protesting is a normal act. It is the right of any citizen, she argues, to participate in demonstrations as long as they are peaceful. Amina then continues her argument by commenting that the Emergency Act has been officially lifted and the days when protests were violently crushed by the state police (for example, in Kabylia in 1980 and 2001; and Algiers in 1988) are long gone.


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Algeria: A Complex and Multilayered Society In most of his films, Allouache inserts references to different political and societal themes. Algeria’s situation is so complex and its issues are so intertwined that one cannot address them in isolation. Although he does not develop every issue in detail, Allouache gives his viewers hints via conversation, shots, objects, posters, and sometimes even the lyrics of songs. It is then up to the viewers to connect the dots in order to fully understand the theme at hand. According to Will Higbee, it is the government’s excessive control over the filmmaker’s work and its denial of financial support that forced Allouache “to circumvent political and economic censure through elliptical representations of everyday cultural and political realities that Algerian audiences can relate to rather than always attacking sociopolitical issues head on in his films.”28  This has indeed allowed him to develop a unique style— one that meshes better with the different complexities of Algerian society. Let me briefly discuss some of these references. During the long debate in Fouzi’s apartment, one of the actors expresses her opinions and then outlines the multiple problems in Algerian society such as lack of civility, the absence of the authorities where needed, the discouragement of the youth by their elders, filth in public areas, and poor management. She then singles out the government for the money spent on the Pan-African Festival when it could have been used to improve housing or to develop youth programs. In the same conversation, Amina (played by Adila Bendimerad) interjects by saying that poverty and unemployment are not the only important factors. Justice, education, and health care are as important, if not more, because “even her dog eats and sleeps well.” She then concludes by wondering about the future and whether or not she wants to have children. To complete his accusation against the authorities, Allouache provides the viewer with another piece of the puzzle, which is the long shot of the famous Casbah of Algiers in complete disrepair. It is a historical World Heritage site but has been abandoned by the state.29 Another hint

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is given in a scene, which features the actors discussing their play with a bureaucrat at the Ministry of Culture who tells them why she will not accept their “subversive” play. One of these actors films her discretely with his cellular phone in an effort to record this official censorship. With this scene, Allouache seems to suggest that young filmmakers ought to use this device to film the multiple realities and events that are happening in society on a daily basis. After all, nowadays one can easily make a film with an ordinary mobile phone. In a sense, through Normal! Allouache wants to expose not just censorship but also the corruption of the Ministry of Culture. This institution spends huge sums of money on useless projects while denying young and aspiring artists approval and support for their creative projects. The censorship of the play in the film reflects the one that targeted Allouache himself in 2009 when he made Harragas. In addition to censorship, there is also a culture of corruption, nepotism, and favoritism in the cultural sector. To depict this environment, Allouache films the Pan-African Festival (which actually was the initial topic for Normal!). He is also right in questioning some colossal cinematic projects (mostly on individual heroes of the Algerian Revolution), which require big budgets and yet fail to be successful. In her analysis of Normal! Alison Rice asserts that “in precise terms, he [Allouache] aimed to document the second Pan-African Cultural Festival in order to expose the corrupt practices of the custodians of the cultural sector.”30 Finally, one scene features the French woman wandering in the streets of Algiers and then pausing to look at the plaque commemorating the death of a journalist in 1994. While this scene has no link with the film, Allouache wants us to remember how it all started in the mid-1990s when several journalists were killed.31 This scene is also reminiscent of Tahar Djaout’s assassination in the spring of 1993, which marked another period of uncertainty for Allouache. In an interview he did for the DVD supplement of Bab el-Oued City, he told the story of the day when he was shooting this film and heard the sad news about the assassination of his friend, Tahar Djaout. The other painful moment for him was when he


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had to make the choice between attending the meeting with his friends to discuss what to do next or continue shooting his film. Obviously, Allouache chose the latter. He chose action over words. As I explained in chapter 2, the film exposed both the Islamists and those who pulled the strings. However, this reference to the dead journalist complicates the situation and accentuates the doubts and uncertainties felt by the characters (and hence, by Allouache himself) regarding the situation of the country and what to do in that context. At one point, Fouzi looks directly at the camera and says: “I want to say things, but I don’t know how to say them. I want to write, but I don’t know how to write.” The character of Mabrouk (the character who agrees to rent the rooftop to Fouzi and help him organize the shooting of the film) sums up the complexity of the political situation in Algeria when he explains how the people of the Casbah finally found a solution for themselves through violent riots. After supporting the Islamic Front of Salvation in the 1990s, which failed them, the young people in the Casbah decided to seize any opportunity to participate in riots. They also use violence in these demonstrations because they know that the authorities will offer them all types of advantages if they cease their violent acts. It was indeed true that in that context of the Arab Spring, Bouteflika’s government tried to avert a revolt in Algeria at any cost. By using the huge oil and gas revenues from the preceding years, the authorities bought peace and prevented an “Arab Spring” in Algeria. The government distributed allowances, grants, interest-free loans, free land and space for commerce and agriculture projects, as well as housing to the youth. It pays, in Mabrouk’s view, to riot and break things because the authorities will give something to those who do just that. Conversely, peaceful demonstrations are violently repressed by the police. When doctors, schoolteachers, and other public employees claim their right to participate in peaceful demonstrations and sit-ins they often become targets of police brutality.32 The youths in Normal! represent another group in Algeria who, unlike the young harragas I discussed in chapter 3, face different obstacles. The

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issues in Normal! mostly revolve around censorship, self-censorship, the nature of political engagement, the weight of tradition, dissent, and the conditions of young artists in Algeria in the context of the “Arab Spring.” The youths in Harragas, in contrast, fight for more basic needs, such as employment and housing. The living conditions of the two groups are different, and therefore they adopt different positions vis-à-vis the status quo. While the first group thinks about and discusses the different ways of overcoming their problems, the second group no longer believes in change and prefers to leave the country at any cost, even if it means losing their lives while crossing the sea. At the end of the film, Fouzi and Amina are watching a YouTube video on the January 15, 2011, riots in Algiers, where people were screaming: “Y en a marre de ce pouvoir!” (“Enough of this regime!”).33 One gathers from their comments that they both participated in that march, holding the banner that Amina had designed. She then asks if they could participate again in the upcoming march. The fight seems to go on. The film then ends with a zoom on the banner on which is written in Arabic: “Algeria, Free and Democratic” and with Fouzi’s recurring question: “Why protest in the streets?” Through this film, Allouache is trying to pass the torch to the new generation of filmmakers, who are still struggling in Algeria: Une société de plus en plus fermée, où les tabous, la répression, le dénigrement, l’autoritarisme sont érigés comme des barrières infranchissables. A society increasingly closed where taboos, repression, disparagement, authoritarianism are erected as insurmountable barriers. This does not mean that Allouache’s more-than-forty-year fight is about to stop. On the contrary, as we shall see in the next chapter, his films become more and more virulent and less intermittent. Lastly, while shooting Normal! in 2011, Allouache had the idea to look at Algerian


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society from above. So, in 2013, he took his camera to five building rooftops in Algiers to make his next opus The Rooftops.

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Notes 1. For a detailed description and analysis of the post-civil war, see Jacob Mundy’s chapter “Truth, Reconciliation, and Transitional Justice: History Will Judge” in his excellent book Imaginative Geographies of Algerian Violence: Conflict Science, Conflict Management, Antipolitics, Stanford University Press, Studies in Middle Eastern and Islamic Societies and Cultures, 2015. 2. "BBC NEWS | Africa | Q&A: Algerian Referendum." BBC News - Home. 29 Sept. 2005. Web. 04 Dec. 2010. . 3. Labidi, Kamel. “Amnesia is the price of Algerian peace and reconciliation”: 4. Ibid. 5. I am thinking, for example, of Hocine Aït Ahmed, Ali Yahia Abdennour, Arezki Aït Larbi, and Lakhdar Brahimi, to name just a few. I could also include the ones who unfortunately passed away before the Dark Decade, namely Mouloud Mammeri, Kateb Yacine and Ali Mecili. 6. “Un autre jour est possible 10 avril”, 2013. http://www.franceculture. fr/emissions/un-autre-jour-est-possible/une-histoire-des-papes-filmmerzak-allouache. 7. Allouache, Merzak.“Note of intent” in film press kit, page 1: (http://www. 8. Ibid. 9. “Un Autre Jour est Possible” a podcast show by Tewfik Hakim.  “Une histoire des papes /Film : Merzak Allouache”, France culture 04.10.2013 : 10. This is from Benjamin Stora’s book title: La Guerre Invisible: Algérie, années 90 (Paris: Presses de Sciences Po., 2001). 11. Austin, Guy, Algerian National Cinema. Manchester University Press, 2012, p. 143. 12. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2007, p. 264. (Quoted in Austin, 2012, p. 143). 13. Allouache, Merzak. "J’ai un devoir d’engagement“, July 18, 2013:


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14. Boudraa, Nabil. “Interview with Ahmed Bedjaoui: Algerian Cinema in the New Millenium.” Journal of North African Studies, Vol. 22, Number 5, December 2017, pp. 709–710. 15. I used this word in quotation marks because Rachid has never actually repented. He has never admitted a crime or asked for forgiveness from society. The only action he did was to officially register with the local police as a repentant. 16. Barlet, Olivier, “Je déposerai mes scenarios au ministère et si on me refuse le financement, je me débrouillerai.” (Interview with Merzak Allouache), Africultures, les Mondes en Relations. April 8, 2013. 17. This issue of male–female relationships is recurrent in Allouache’s cinema. See my analysis of the 1976 film, Omar Gatlato, in Chapter 1, and of Madame Courage (2015), in Chapter 5. 18. In recent years, France has also been suffering from this scourge that targets its disenfranchised youth, particularly in the banlieues (city suburbs) and poor neighborhoods. 19. It was the beginning of the civil war, and violence had already begun. Allouache had to change the script every day, deal with crewmembers resigning because of fear, never shoot in same place twice, etc. He had to use a 16mm camera for that film. See beginning of chapter 2 for details. 20. One must not ignore the different Berber languages across Algeria and beyond, such as Kabyle, Chaoui, Chenoui, Targui, Mzabi, among others. Several films in Kabyle were made in Algeria starting in the 1990s, namely The Forgotten Hill (1992), Machaho (1995), and Baya’s Mountain (1997). 21. Allouache admits, however, that Bab el-Web is his worst film because even though he had a bigger budget and more means thanks to the success of Chouchou, he could not figure what genre to adapt for this film (comedy or film d'auteur). Consequently, the film is neither and is simply lost in between these two genres. (From Jawab Bassite, TV show, Season 2, episode 10). Accessed on YouTube, December 11, 2017. 22. The riots of April 1980, known as “Tafsut Imazighen” in Berber or “Le Printemps berbère” in French (“the Berber Spring”), were the first major political protests in Algeria. During those riots, hundreds of people were killed and thousands were jailed by the police. 23. 24. Métaoui, Fayçal. "Festival d'Oran: Merzak Allouache agresse les journalistes" in El Watan, December 21, 2011.

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25. Khatibi, Saïd. “Algerian Filmmaker Merzak Allouache Struggles with Censorship after Long Career,” in Al Akhbar, November 23, 2011, ( 26. “Silence is death/ and you, if you speak, you die/ and if you remain silent, you die/ So, speak out and die.” 27. This is typical to African cinema in general (from both north and south of the Sahara), in which the absence of special effects, adequate funding, and star actors are simply supplanted by the richness of dialogue in the script. 28. Higbee, Will. “Merzak Allouache: (Self-) Censorship, Social Critique, and the Limits of Political Engagement in Contemporary Algerian Cinema (Algeria).” In Gugler, Josef (ed.). Ten Arab Filmmakers: Political Dissent and Social Critique. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2015, p. 206. 29. A good visual representation of this Casbah can be found in Gillo Pontecorvo’s 1966 classic, The Battle of Algiers. 30. Rice, Alison. “Filming for Change: Solidarity and Cinematic Engagement in Merzak Allouache’s Normal!”. CELAAN Review, Vol. XIV, 2&3, Fall 2017, p.115. 31. See chapter 1 for my analysis of Allouache’s documentary on how Algerian journalists became the target since 1988. 32. Authorities in the past have also used violence by using thugs to infiltrate peaceful riots in order to sabotage them, or at least taint them with a negative image. 33. “Ce pouvoir” refers to the military-backed FLN, neo FLN or RND, and the “bearded-FLN” of Hamas.

Chapter 5

Uncertain Times and New Issues at the Dawn of the New Millennium The Rooftops, Madame Courage, Investigating Paradise, and Divine Wind He who fights with monsters should look to it that he himself does not become a monster. And when you gaze long into an abyss, the abyss also gazes into you. —Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil1 We wanted to change the country, and it was the country that changed us. —The police superintendent in The Rooftops In the previous chapter, I explained how the decade that followed the Algerian civil war was marked by amnesia, silence around the government’s reconciliation policy (The Repentant, 2011), the anguish of the youth and their desire to leave (Bab el-Web, 2004), and by the atmosphere of censorship, corruption, and political turmoil in the context of the Arab Spring (Normal!, 2011). From 2011 on, an entirely different


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set of concerns affect Algerian society. This final chapter addresses these issues through my analysis of Allouache’s latest films: The Rooftops (2013), Madame Courage (2015), Investigating Paradise (2016), and Divine Wind (2018). While some of these issues are recurring, others are new to Algerian society and have emerged as reasons for concern. For instance, violent crimes, drugs, prostitution, and widespread Salafism are increasingly predominant in today’s Algerian society. The reaction of both the authorities and the majority of the population to these social specters is worrisome. Commenting on his film, The Anger (1963), Pier Paolo Pasolini explains that: “L’homme tend à s’assoupir dans sa propre normalité, il oublie de réfléchir sur soi, perd l’habitude de juger, ne sait plus se demander qui il est… La rage commence là, après ces grandes, grises funérailles.”2 (“Man tends to doze off in his own normalcy, forgets to think about himself, loses the habit of judging, and does not know anymore who he is… Anger starts there, after these huge and dark funerals.”). This statement describes the recent situation of Algerians, as depicted by Merzak Allouache in his latest films, particularly The Rooftops. To make better sense of this situation one has to examine Algeria’s history during the last seventy years and focus on important events, such as the Massacres of May 1945, the Algerian War of Independence (1954–62), Boumédiène’s 1965 military coup d’état, the October 1988 riots, the assassination of President Boudiaf in 1992, the violent civil war of the 1990s, and Bouteflika’s clinging to power for twenty years.3 As a result, the majority of the Algerian population somehow became numb to violence and had no choice but to live in a state of apathy, pessimism, and survival. Consequently, several phenomena, which did not exist three or four decades ago, have become the norm and now dominate the daily life of the average Algerian. Salafist indoctrination, drugs, kidnappings, thefts, resentment, selfishness, individualism, fracture of the family bonds, the disintegration of social unity, crime, and suicide are all ghosts that have now come to haunt Algeria. Unfortunately, the current

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political and economic climates are making the situation worse. First, the ailing President Bouteflika has been almost invisible for several years, which makes the population feel helpless, as if there was no captain on a sinking ship. Secondly, the economy has suffered a big blow from the recent and sudden decline of oil prices. Ninety-five percent of Algeria’s income derives from the export of natural gas and oil. The drop in oil prices in the past couple of years, from $100 to $35 a barrel, caused a huge budget deficit in Algeria. In the years immediately preceding this oil crisis, Algeria had a money surplus, but unfortunately, instead of investing to create a robust economy, the authorities spent billions of dollars on useless and unproductive projects. For example, several gigantic mosques, military barracks, and large-scale prisons were built in recent years. In addition, to prevent revolts and subdue the population in the context of the Arab Spring of 2011, the state distributed all kinds of benefits to the population, ranging from housing to businesses, and from loans and grants to huge salary increases for a select list of professions, which created resentment among the other sectors of society. It is in this context of chaos and mismanagement that Allouache declares: “Il y a quelque chose qui ne va pas. Quelque chose qui n’est pas réglé depuis la violence extrême de la décennie noire.”4 (“Something is not right. Something that has not been settled since the extreme violence of the Dark Decade.”) One must indeed question this status quo because it has been nearly two decades since the end of the Dark Decade (1992–2000) and the situation has not improved. Discussing The Rooftops, Allouache says that: “À Alger, il y a un problème d’insécurité incroyable. (…) La situation est très tendue…On ne s’aime plus en Algérie. Il n’y a plus de projet commun.”5 (“There is an incredible problem of security in Algiers (…) The situation is very tense…We do not like each other anymore in Algeria. There is no common project.”) In fact, one song in The Rooftops, whose lyrics Allouache wrote himself, epitomizes this situation: “Nobody likes anyone… Rachid does not like Ali. Ali betrays Mohammed,” and so on. The following analysis aims to show how Allouache’s films reflect


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this new Algerian reality, in which social problems continue to destroy both the fabric of Algeria, and the heart and soul of the Algerian people.

The Rooftops: When Algeria is Scrutinized From Above During the shooting of the 2011 telefilm La Baie d’Alger, Allouache rediscovered the rooftops of Algiers and decided to use them on this occasion to observe Algerian society from above. It was not the first time that Allouache used rooftops in his films. His 1976 Omar Gatlato (chapter 1) and the 1993 opus Bab el-Oued City (chapter 2) include a few scenes on the rooftops of Bab el-Oued. At that time, rooftops were used as places of refuge, where young and cloistered women could create their own freedom and indulge in small proscibed pleasures, such as smoking cigarettes and fantasizing about love and sexual experiences.6 In Bab el-Oued City, for example, a scene shows a group of young women discussing the Harlequin romance book series and popular Egyptian TV soap operas. The situation has changed drastically since then. The phenomenon of rural exodus, especially in the last twenty years, has altered the landscape of Algiers and of other large cities in the country. Because of overpopulation and a shortage of housing, the rooftops became living spaces, where makeshift sheds were built, washrooms turned into bedrooms, and where all kinds of activities, such as torture, theft, charlatanism, suicide, group prayers, and drug trafficking take place on a daily basis. As has happened with parking on the streets, some unemployed youths have proclaimed themselves the managing agents, or even as the owners of these rooftops, and charge people for the different uses of these spaces. Halim, a character in one of The Rooftops stories, is a case in point. He demands money from all those using the building’s rooftop, as if it were his own property. His “customers” include two thieves hiding a motorcycle they have just stolen; Akli, the wannabe boxer; three young women who gather to talk and to smoke a cigarette; and the charlatan sheikh who pretends to practice religious medicine.

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In sum, it is this whole new world on the rooftops that Allouache wants to capture with his camera. The use of rooftops in 2013 was a practical as well as an artistic choice for Allouache. In addition to the lack of support from the authorities,7 Allouache has encountered other obstacles and logistical hurdles. After the Arab Spring, the conditions for filmmaking became very difficult. Aside from some filmmakers who received ample funding from the government for their projects, most independent filmmakers in Algeria could not find the means to make films, especially feature-length films. These difficulties compelled Allouache to adjust his filmmaking methods. He started resorting to the use of small hand-held cameras and smaller crews, shooting on a tighter schedule, keeping quiet about the project at least until the film was ready for post-production, and hiring a select group of actors who could work fast and efficiently. He also shot mostly outside to avoid lighting expenses. However, according to Allouache himself, Algiers had become so crowded and so unsafe that it was almost impossible to shoot a single street scene. With these “interior–exterior spaces,” as Allouache calls the rooftops, there was no need to barricade streets for shooting, no need for official permission, and no need for artificial lighting. Most importantly, there were no safety issues to worry about since the entire film was shot on rooftops, away from any danger.

Synopsis and Analysis The Rooftops is, without doubt, Merzak Allouache’s most interesting and most poignant film to date. In a sense, it synthesizes everything that Allouache has been doing in his films for the past forty years. Each of his earlier films explored a major theme. The Rooftops, however, seems like a tsunami that brings all the issues to the fore at once. In this scrutinizing of Algerian society, nobody is spared, not even those members of the population who used to be the victims of the state and of the Islamists. While Bab el-Web is Allouache’s most optimistic film, The Rooftops is certainly his most pessimistic one. Death predominates in most, if not all,


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of the stories in the film. Humor is nonexistent and even the song lyrics in the story have a dark undertone, as they focus on the generalized hatred in society. The film is structured as five separate short stories that happen in parallel within a twenty-four-hour cycle in five different neighborhoods of Algiers: Notre Dame d’Afrique, Bab el-Oued, the Casbah, Telemly, and Belcourt. The entire film follows the rhythm of the five calls for prayer in the background, which set the tone and atmosphere. All the stories take place on rooftops, which allows Allouache to create dominant aerial and panoramic views of the capital. The setting is simply magical, especially with the sunlight over the city, so well described by Albert Camus in his lyrical essays on Algeria.8 The sublime Mediterranean Sea is omnipresent, but it seems as if the inhabitants of Algiers have turned their backs on it. The viewer cannot ignore the constant paradox that juxtaposes the beauty of the natural setting with the malaise of society. Within this structure, Allouache offers a microcosmic representation of Algerian society and casts a critical eye on important social issues, such as class and gender inequality, poverty, corruption, religious zeal, misogyny, and falsified history, among others.

Against the Government’s Falsification of History History has always been a bête noire for Algerian francophone writers. In fact, falsification of history is not new in this part of the world. In Antiquity, Cato the Elder’s famous phrase: “Delenda est Carthago” (“Carthage must be destroyed”) is suggestive of Rome’s obsession with the disappearance of its rival empire from the face of the Earth as the ultimate denouement. The successive colonizers in Northern Africa (Romans, Vandals, Byzantines, Arabs, Spaniards, Turks, and French) have all attempted similar approaches and wrote their own (hi)story onto that of the indigenous inhabitants, known as Imazighen (Berbers). Unfortunately, since independence half a century ago, the Algerian government continued that trend of misrepresenting history.9 It has completely

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obliterated Algeria’s pre-Islamic history, as if nothing existed before the Arab conquest. Instead of celebrating the richness of both its prehistory and antiquity, the state has covered up these periods and even made them taboo. Only recently did the authorities start to accept and sponsor initiatives to remedy this discrepancy, thanks to the efforts of the HCA (Haut Commissariat à l’Amazighité). This organization has recently organized several international colloquia on various legendary figures in ancient Algerian history, such as Saint Augustine, Massinissa, Jugurtha, and Apuleius. This dilemma surrounding Algerian history is as complex as it is interesting. To summarize it in an analogy, I would say that Algerian history has been treated like a book, from which several chapters were torn out (pre-history and antiquity), some crossed out (Middle Ages), and others simply rewritten (history of anti-colonialism). The latter period weighed so heavily on the population that it seemed suffocating, which led the famed Kamel Daoud to declare: “Il nous faut sortir de l’Histoire pour assumer notre présent.” (“We must move out of History in order to assume our present.”)10 Allouache’s focus has always been on the present, but he did decide to delve into the issue of history, albeit briefly, in The Rooftops. The example below illustrates how he subverts the government’s official version of history and turns it upside down. One of the five stories in the film features an old man who is considered insane and is treated like a sick animal by his own family. He is chained, often insulted, and caged like a dog on the rooftop. Similar to the wise majnoun (crazy person) in Maghrebian literature, this character, named Uncle Larbi, tells the erased truth about Algeria’s past, particularly the War of Liberation (1954–62). In a discussion with his young niece, he insists that the roles of the hero and the villain have been reversed. Unfortunately, with the exception of this young child, nobody is interested in the old man’s stories. Like most Algerians, everyone else is preoccupied with the daily existence and has no interest in the past. “Vous avez saccagé le pays” (“You have wrecked the country”), he admonishes. This short sentence is the embodiment


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of what Allouache has been expressing through his films since Omar Gatlato in 1976. It must, however, be stated that in the years preceding the film, there was a debate in Algeria among political figures, historians, and even anciens moudjahidin (war veterans) about who the actual heroes of the revolution were. In this turmoil, Algerians were stunned to hear some political figures, themselves dubious, criticize heroic figures in Algeria’s contemporary history, particularly one of the fathers of the Algerian Revolution, Abane Ramdane. This situation became more complicated when, in 2011, the Algerian government passed a new cinema law that deprives directors of the right to make any type of film that deals with Algerian history without formal approval from the Ministry of Culture, which, according to Allouache, “amounts to legalized censorship.” The Rooftops participates in this national debate and gives viewers some food for thought. In the story that he often tells his niece, Larbi refers to the man with a moustache during the war of liberation. While there is no indication who this character might be, one can easily understand that he is referring to all those who were not the real heroes of the revolution and who took power at independence in 1962 and have kept it ever since. Through this scene, Allouache is clearly rewriting the true story of the Battle of Algiers—that of the renowned Ali la Pointe and of those who sold him out to the French army.

Against Sexism, Misogyny, and Machismo One story in The Rooftops features a cloistered woman who enjoys watching a band rehearse on the adjacent rooftop. She becomes fond of Assia, the female lead singer of the group, in whom she sees her alter ego. For her, Assia represents the freedom that she herself cannot have. Interestingly enough, the group members—obviously all privileged youth—do not understand her distress. They even mock her because she admires Assia. At first, Assia feels uncomfortable with her new “fan,” and she cannot make sense of all the text messages she receives from her until

Uncertain Times and New Issues


an accident takes place. While she and her male friends are discussing their options for a programmed performance, a man suddenly appears on the other rooftop and, for no apparent reason, starts beating this anonymous woman. Unfortunately, by the time Assia finally understands her new friend’s tragic situation, it is too late. At the end of that story, Assia appears standing alone on her building’s roof, enjoying a cigarette on a cold night, with a somber look on her face. All of a sudden, she witnesses, helplessly, the suicide of her friend who jumps off the building, obviously weary of a society where misogyny, contempt, and brute violence have become the norm. Allouache adds another layer to his criticism of men in this particular story. While the band members are witnessing the beating of the woman on the adjacent rooftop, Assia does not understand why the three men in her band, including her boyfriend, do not want to intervene. Assia, shocked by their cowardice, insults their manhood and ends her relationships with them, including the romance with her boyfriend. The director seems to signal other flaws in society: individualism, fear, egotism, indifference, and cowardice.

Against Religious Charlatanism The topic of religious charlatanism is not new in Allouache’s filmography. As I explained in chapter 1, the wicked and self-proclaimed imams in Adventures of a Hero (1978) used religion to extort money and valuables from their community. In chapter 2, I also demonstrated how Saïd, the radical Islamist in Bab el-Oued City, connived with some mysterious businessmen to deceive the entire neighborhood. The use of religion for materialistic purposes obviously continues in Algeria. The character of Sheikh Lamine in The Rooftops is another charlatan who surfs on a wave of deceit sweeping across the country in recent years, whereby religion is presented as a healing tool. This practice, called roquia, consists of using the Koran to exorcise the demons (djinns) from people in order to heal them. In this story, Sheikh Lamine is impatiently waiting for his


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client, who happens to be a veiled woman, apparently troubled by sexual problems in her marriage. She has come to consult with this religious “doctor” and receive counseling. While the sheikh abhors the pictures of naked women in the rooftop shed, which he is renting for his business, he orders his patient to undress and then beats her. Allouache uses this particular sequence to highlight another aspect of this religious charlatanism. When the woman comments on his lamp, Sheikh Lamine tells her that he bought it in Pakistan’s capital, Peshawar. Allouache does not insert references like this one without a reason. This is an allusion to the fact that the Middle East has become a landmark to many Algerians. In this particular case, this information would, in the charlatan’s mind, give more legitimacy to his status vis-à-vis the patient. It is worth remembering that many Algerian men went to Afghanistan in the 1980s to fight the Soviet incursion. Their return home had several societal consequences, such as Islamic radicalization, changes in social mores, and imposition of rules regarding clothing. My analysis of Bab elOued City (chapter 2) and of Investigating Paradise (see below) includes several details about this new wave of Salafist ideology. This backdrop of religious dogma creates a sense of schizophrenia among Algerians and it is noticeable in some of the characters of the film. In fact, the very first scene is a perfect example of this paradox and sets the dark tone for the rest of the film. It features a man on the rooftop getting ready for his early morning prayer (fajr). Instead of approaching his prayer with spirituality and wisdom, this elderly man explodes with anger and curses aggressively for no apparent reason. This film also shows how religion is used as a pretext for personal gain. The Islamist, who chains his uncle in a doghouse, uses the rooftop to conduct his suspicious drug dealing under the cover of piety. For the Friday afternoon prayer, he invites a group of young followers to both pray and listen to a preacher’s sermon, which is reminiscent of the fanaticism that marked the early 1990s. Allouache seems to warn us that history always repeats itself, and that some people are still trying to jumpstart the specter of

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Islamic fundamentalism in Algeria after the tragic Dark Decade. This particular story can be easily viewed as a microcosmic representation of post-independence Algeria, whereby the authentic identity and culture of the people have been replaced by religious fanaticism that often hides other motives such as greed and power. Allouache is right in blowing the whistle because in the last few years Algeria has witnessed a rise of a new form of Islamization.11 According to some sociologists and psychologists, this phenomenon has already ravaged many of the country’s youth who no longer believe in moderate Islam nor in their parents. They advocate for a more rigorous Islam with new rituals and practices, such as roquia (explained above), al akika, more fasting periods, and use of classical Arabic to the detriment of the mother tongues (namely, derja and tamazight). Instead of combatting this new danger, the authorities have amplified it by building more mosques,12 developing more religious programs in schools, and allowing religious TV channels to proliferate and to proselytize.

Against Hypocrisy, Iniquity, and Self-censorship In The Rooftops, Allouache takes up hypocrisy and moral decadence, which are prevalent in the new Algerian society. A case in point is contempt, known as hogra in the Algerian dialect, which unfortunately has supplanted the old practices of solidarity and empathy. An older landlord is trying to evict a poor elderly woman from her makeshift shack on a rooftop where she has been giving shelter to her niece and her niece’s teenage son. From the dialogue, we learn that the niece had been raped by Islamic terrorists during Algeria’s Dark Decade, an experience that led to her mental instability, her expulsion from her own family, her husband’s suicide, and her illegitimate son’s drug addiction. The owner of the building shows her no mercy and attempts to force an eviction using the justice system. Selouma, the older woman, had taken refuge on the rooftop because her house in the Casbah collapsed a few years earlier and, as she did not know where to go, neighbors helped her build a small


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shack on their building rooftop. She, in turn, gave refuge to her niece and the niece’s son, the illegitimate child of a terrorist who had raped the niece during the civil war of the 1990s. Her parents had refused to take her back because of the rape, as if it were her fault. Therefore, she and her son, Krimo, came to Algiers to take refuge in her aunt’s “home.” This reference should not to be taken lightly because, while this topic of rape by terrorists is taboo in Algeria, it is common: hundreds, if not thousands, of children, were born out of wedlock during the violent Dark Decade. These victims, who are now in their twenties, are facing shame, silence, and contempt, in addition to the recurrent issues of unemployment, poverty, exclusion, and so on. Unfortunately, Krimo, the drug addict in The Rooftops, is a victim of his society and of his own family. This story ends with a pivotal moment when a police detective (also an in-law to the property owner) demonstrates that humanity has not yet vanished. Si Boubeker goes against the interest of his family to protect the older woman because, as he says, “Je n’aime pas l’arbitraire.” (“I do not like injustice.”) He knows from the moment he arrives on that rooftop that his in-law was killed there, but he prefers to protect the older woman from the tyranny of the “arrivistes” (“social climbers”), as he calls them. Allouache uses this particular story to attack these unscrupulous “nouveaux riches” who would do any kind of injustice and iniquity to make a profit. The building owner shows no mercy toward the older woman and threatens to call the police to kick her out of the building, to which she replies: “You can bring the US Army if you like, but I won’t leave this place.” Allouache is compressing two major phenomena into this short sequence. The first one relates to the helplessness of the poor. The authorities should have helped the older woman relocate somewhere when she lost her house in the tragic collapse of the Casbah. The other issue is the dishonest enrichment of an entire social class, which has been stealing Algeria’s riches since independence. In the summer of 1962, for example, while most Algerian people were celebrating the end of colonialism, greedy individuals were occupying the apartments and houses that the one million French of Algeria had left months earlier. In

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the film, Allouache conveys this fact through the building owner’s son who tells his father-in-law to join him at “the building which we [his family] took at independence.” So, by being on the side of the powerless, the police superintendent is showing viewers that all is not lost because, as the French philosopher Raymond Aron once said, “Perdre le sens des valeurs, c’est déjà consentir à l’esclavage.” (“To lose the sense of values, is to already consent to slavery.”) The Rooftops is full of other references that point to relevant topics. The “torture” story, for example, refers to the practice of torture in postcolonial Algeria. My analysis of The Repentant, in the previous chapter, includes a reference to The Black Book of October that dealt with the issue of torture of opposition militants by state agents in the late 1980s. This practice was also used against the Islamists during the Dark Decade of the 1990s. In colonial Algeria, Gillo Pontecorvo’s The Battle of Algiers (1966) helped expose this practice at the international level. Cupidity is combined with an unprecedented cruelty. The two torturers are discussing the money they could get by selling the camera that they had just confiscated from the people they have coldheartedly slaughtered. The three young filmmakers happened to be in the same building as their aggressors at the wrong time. Furthermore, a sarcastic remark about François Hollande’s visit to Algeria is a reference to an old political practice of the Algerian authorities. When Assia complains to her band members about their late arrival to the rehearsal, one of them blames the official visit of the then-French president, explaining that the state had decorated entire sections of town with fresh coats of paint to make a good impression. “I hope he [Hollande] will go through my neighborhood,” he sarcastically adds, meaning that if he does then his neighborhood will benefit from this rejuvenation. This tradition of decorating the public space only when foreign political leaders visit Algeria has become a joke among Algerians. Finally, yet importantly, the topic of self-censorship, which Allouache developed in more detail in his 2011 film Normal! (see chapter 4), resurfaces


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in one of the stories in The Rooftops. The character of the woman director, played by Salima Abada, wants to shoot a panoramic view of Algiers from a rooftop for her documentary, Algiers, the Pearl of the Arab World. Before her camera-operator starts shooting, she instructs him to avoid the Christian and Jewish cemeteries because she does not “want anything foreign” to appear in her film. He disagrees with this vision of Algeria because he knows that these remnants of the past are also part of Algeria’s rich and complex history. This attempt to obliterate parts of Algeria’s past is scandalous. This particular scene epitomizes the entire country’s attitude since conservative politicians have been manipulating Algeria’s history with the purpose of reducing it to a one-dimensional version, as I explained above. In conclusion, with The Rooftops Allouache seems to suggest that society has reached the point of nihilism, and that most, if not all, values of the past have vanished. The film opens in the darkness of early morning with the muezzin’s call for prayer in the backdrop and ends with a cold winter evening. A symbolic darkness that comes full circle. This pessimistic note does not, however, prevent Allouache from ending his film with a wedding chaabi orchestra, perhaps as an indication that even when society is on the brink of a collapse one can still celebrate and enjoy life. In fact, the last words of El Koubi’s song read: “Don’t take life too seriously.” In sum, despite their tragic overtone, these five stories end with this cheerful moment, which indicates that perhaps not all is lost.

Madame Courage: When Poverty Produces Crime “Poverty is the mother of crime,” said the Roman emperor and philosopher, Marcus Aurelius, and Allouache seems to agree with that statement by suggesting that the government is to blame for this vicious cycle; one that begins with impoverishment and ends with tragedy. It is a paradoxical situation because Algeria is very rich from oil and natural gas revenues, and yet the government remains indifferent to the needs of the population, particularly the lower class. The slums and ghettos, featured

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in Madame Courage (2015), are a testimony to the impoverishment of the people and to this huge disparity between the different social classes. In 2015, Allouache decided to descend from the rooftops of Algiers and continue his examination of Algerian society, but this time in Mostaganem, a coastal city approximately 200 miles west of the capital where he shot Harragas in 2009. Madame Courage, Allouache’s fourteenth feature film, is another homage to the Algerian youth who struggle in society regardless of the period in which they live. The main topic of this film, however, is drugs. “Madame Courage” is the nickname given to one of these drugs, which many young people have become addicted to in recent years. Allouache has obviously not given up on the many social problems that have ravaged Algerian youth since his first film, Omar Gatlato (1976), which masterfully detailed their daily anxiety in postindependence Algeria. Madame Courage is also about the misery of the disenfranchized in general. In an advertisement for the film, Allouache underlines its relevance in the following words: With the film Madame Courage, I maintain a critical and uncompromising eye on Algerian society, through the story of Omar, an alienated teenager. He lives the social and psychological misery experienced by thousands of marginalized young people, that provides a breeding ground for violence. The scourges of radical Islamism and corruption have plagued Algerian society for decades. Nowadays, drugs, prostitution, violence and daily riots put the country at risk of social and political eruption and no one can measure its impact. I indeed think that a filmmaker originating or living in these profoundly changing societies cannot escape a duty of commitment in his or her films.13 While Allouache reiterates the seriousness of old specters, such as fundamentalism and corruption, he highlights other relatively recent scourges: namely, drugs, prostitution, and violence. Once again the word “marginalized” (in his introduction to the film above) alludes to the government’s indifference to the situation of the country’s youth. The danger for society, he warns, lies in the social explosions that these


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problems will eventually ignite. This situation calls for the commitment by filmmakers and artists in general to denounce abuse, raise awareness, and side with the marginalized.

Against Government Contempt and Indifference The story of Madame Courage starts with one secondary character from Allouache’s previous film, The Rooftops (2013). This character, who is seemingly a representation of the Algerian youth, totally succumbs to the power of a psychoactive drug commonly known as Madame Courage. The first scene shows Omar, the main character, being chased by a group of young men, and it becomes clear that he has done something wrong. In the next scene, we see him, in public and in broad daylight, stealing a necklace from a young woman who was simply enjoying a stroll in the company of her friends. At home, Omar’s mother, who does not see much potential in him, constantly insults him. Everyone in society abandons him, including his own family. He consequently finds refuge in Madame Courage, the drug that provides him with bravery and courage. Under its effect, he feels invincible. In one scene, he says, “Even the wind won’t touch me.” Without an education or a job, Omar is adrift in society. The only thing left for him to do is to squander his time in the city and survive by committing petty theft. At first glance, one might think that this film is an attack on young people, but Allouache is actually making a charge against the government for its mistreatment of the youth. Through this focus on Omar’s hardships and helplessness, Allouache pushes the viewers to feel empathy and even sympathy for this young man despite his criminal activities. As in most of his films, Allouache’s anti-heroes are presented as vulnerable, ambiguous, and yet touching human beings. Omar is portrayed as a delinquent and even a bit violent, but Allouache also shows his human side. For example, Omar feels remorse when he notices his victim’s distress, so he decides to give back the necklace, which he had stolen from her that morning. Despite his awkwardness, he is also prone to

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love, which he constantly shows to his victim throughout the movie. This trait is typical of some of the characters in Allouache’s other films such as The Other World (2001) and The Repentant (2011). In both films, the protagonist is a terrorist and as such symbolizes humanity at its worst, and yet he is a young man who not only falls in love, but also aspires to a more decent life. Allouache is suggesting that fanaticism and terrorist violence ensnare vulnerable youth, torn between teenage and adult life, between the desires for a good life and Islamist discourses, and between the government’s contempt and the harsh reality of their own daily life, known as “la malvie.” In Madame Courage, Omar’s family is very poor and lives in a small shack in the ghettos of the city’s outskirts. To survive, Omar resorts to petty theft while his sister relies on prostitution. As in most of Allouache’s films, irony is important. For example, Omar’s father worked and died in the Algerian petroleum industry. Sonatrach, the state-owned oil company, symbolizes the country’s wealth, and yet this deceased employee’s family lives in extreme poverty. The fortunes accumulated from the export of gas and oil have been stolen by corrupt leaders and the rest squandered on useless projects. In contrast, the disenfranchised did not get their fair share. This injustice constitutes another leitmotiv in Allouache’s cinema. Furthermore, there is an exaggerated presence of the Algerian flag in Madame Courage, a trivial detail one might assume, but Allouache is hinting at the vicious government practice of feeding the population with patriotic anachronisms while stripping the country of its wealth. As in most of Allouache’s films, Madame Courage also includes the subtheme of religious zeal. In several scenes, viewers see Omar following Selma in the streets and hear the muezzin’s calls for prayer in the background. More importantly, Omar’s mother is often shown doing her domestic chores while listening to religious sermons on the radio or on television. These sermons are presented as the new moral codes for society and deal with all aspects of life from women’s role in society to cleanliness, and from modernity to identity, but with a very retrograde perspective.


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This becomes so suffocating for Omar that, in one instance, he tells his mother that someday he will break the TV set on her head. Ironically, while the leaders grab the country’s riches, excessive nationalism and religious zeal are the only things left for the disenfranchised.

On Other Social Ills Olivier Barlet14 has correctly compared Madame Courage to Allouache’s first film, Omar Gatlato, whose main character is also called Omar. Both Omars face the same issues despite the fact that four decades that have passed since Omar Gatlato premiered. The relationship with women still seems to be problematic. Both characters are incapable of expressing their feelings to the women they appear to love. Omar of Madame Courage attempts to show his feelings for Selma but in a very awkward manner. He obviously does not know how to behave in this particular situation. He stalks the young woman and waits for hours outside her apartment building just to catch a glimpse of her. Madame Courage shows that nothing has changed since the 1970s for Algeria’s youth. In fact, their situation has worsened. In addition to this romantic frustration and drugs, the film also highlights the problems of unemployment, poverty, and prostitution, and, most importantly, the scourge of Islamic fundamentalism. Lastly, as in most of Allouache’s films, the viewer constantly notices the Mediterranean Sea in the background. It appears very placid, sky blue, and as though it were watching from the other side, a witness to what is happening in Algerian society. Unfortunately, all the characters, without exception, turn their backs to the sea and pay no attention to it, as if it were not even there, despite its god-like presence. In fact, aside from the summer months, Algeria’s magnificent beaches are totally ignored by most people. Strolls on the beach are no longer part of the culture. As I explained in chapter 3, beaches are instead perceived by the would-be migrants as departing points. Unfortunately, the much bigger scourge of radical Islam exacerbates these problems of poverty, drugs, and prostitution. The next section

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examines this phenomenon and the ways in which it manifests itself in contemporary Algerian society.

Investigating Paradise: The Homo-Islamicus and Delusional Beliefs One of the most tragic and saddening consequences of radical Islam today is the corruption of young people. This is the subject of Merzak Allouache’s latest film, Investigating Paradise (2016), which has won awards in film festivals around Europe, such as the Berlinale (Germany, 2016) and the Festival International des Programmes Audiovisuels (France, 2017), to name a few. Given the current political climate, this film could not have been more timely. It depicts the dangers of radical Islam and the ways in which Salafist preachers indoctrinate young people with tendentious ideas about Paradise, including the promise that each will have seventy-two houris (celestial virgins) once they arrive there. This belief has taken hold in Algeria and in the rest of the Muslim world in the past couple of decades. Investigating Paradise, which is part documentary part fiction, follows the story of Nedjma, a young journalist who is working for an Algerian daily. She investigates the depiction of paradise in the radical Islamist propaganda. Nedjma’s investigation starts with the video that her colleague, Mustapha, found on the Internet. This video, which has been circulating mostly among the youth, features a fanatical imam describing Paradise in a quasi-pornographic manner. Exploring their frustrations,15 these pernicious preachers deceive the youths with mindboggling visions of Paradise and with the promise that once arrived there, each of them will find the pleasures that they could not have during their life on Earth. Using this video as a springboard for their investigation, Nedjma and Mustapha travel across the country to conduct documentary-style interviews with various groups of people, including famous artists, political activists, former Salafists, feminists, psychiatrists, writers, film


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and television stars, intellectuals, and of course the youth themselves. The two journalists begin in Algiers and end up in Timimoun, one of the largest cities in the Sahara desert, always asking the same questions: “What is Paradise?”, “How does one picture it?”, “Why seventy two virgins for each man?”, “What awaits women over there?”, and so on.

Paradise: Believers versus Nonbelievers In the various responses, the viewer easily sees the difference between two distinct classes, with opposing views regarding representations of Paradise. On the one hand, the highly educated groups overtly criticize— often sarcastically—this fanatical depiction of Paradise and the new dogmatic interpretation of Islam in general. The other group is comprised mostly of ordinary young men and women. They are completely lost in limbo and lead an ambiguous, if not schizophrenic, lifestyle. On the one hand they seem in accord with modern life, and on the other they believe in retrograde descriptions of Paradise. These young people become easy targets for the Salafists who use the Internet and satellite television to prey on them. In one of the best segments of the film, the celebrated Algerian writer Kamel Daoud contends that only culture can push back against these strong Islamist forces. For him, the concept of Paradise itself has done much damage to society because it removes any incentive to produce something positive in life. The video of the preacher describing the celestial virgin’s body is pure “porno-Islamism.” This sickness, in his view, is “tragi-comic” because “the idea of Paradise is a swindle” (une arnaque). While the Imam’s sermon is laughable, it also poses a grave danger to society since the homo-Islamicus sees life simply as a temporary time-space, a waiting room for the real existence. In presenting their particularly alluring promise of the afterlife, Salafists not only undermine our efforts in the present, but also undervalue human existence itself. Those who fall victim to this ideology celebrate death and are willing to kill others in order to hasten their enjoyment of the glories that

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await them in Heaven. It is pure schizophrenia whereby one must die in order to live. In one scene, a cybercafé owner expresses a different opinion. According to him, Algerians believe in a concrete and real earthly Paradise. For these youths, Paradise means finding, through internet chat rooms, a girlfriend somewhere overseas who might invite them and eventually help them acquire residence papers. The young men who come to his cybercafé cannot believe in ridiculous affirmations such as “the wine in Paradise is better than the one down here… There are rivers of buttermilk and honey.” While the café owner might be right to believe that clairvoyant and lucid youths exist, the three youngsters interviewed after him, and in the same location, proved him wrong. Each shares what he thinks to be a truthful and sacred description of Paradise. These young men epitomize Algeria’s multiple contradictions. While they enjoy rap and hip-hop music, video games, romantic online chats, and movies, they also believe in the fanatical references in Sheikh Chemsou’s TV sermons.16 In another scene, the Algerian actress Biyouna reminds us of the Bentalha massacres in 1997, when 450 people, including women and children, were slaughtered in one night. She connects this tragedy to the dangerous radical preachers who indoctrinated young men and forced them to commit all kinds of crimes. In fact, these youths, Biyouna argues, have already started their moral judgments on their elders and push for the adoption of new codes and practices based on religion. It is a shame, she adds, to desire Paradise just to find 72 virgins.17 Paradise is the ultimate phase, when one has already accomplished good deeds in life and deserves the reward in the afterlife. It is also the viewpoint of the feminist activist Samia Zennadi who says that Islam has become a business. She explains that if you tell someone: “Sabah El-Kheir” (“Good morning”), for example, they would reply: “Salaam Alaikum” (“May Peace be upon you”). This formal religious reply will pay dividends compared to the traditional forms of politeness. She then brings up the controversial fatwa, imported from Egypt, about the breastfeeding of grown men by


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women as a sign of community bond because, in their view, a woman’s milk fosters the link between the “Muslim brothers.”18 Fortunately, she says, Algerian imams intervened and warned of its danger because, she adds, it was this kind of fatwa that led Algerians to kill each other during the Dark Decade. Zennadi then concludes by warning that these “fatwas are preparing a new wave, a new generation of terrorists… Globalization has its first effects in this regard… [because] in addition to the global market of products, there is also a market of religion, and we are aligning ourselves with that.” To accentuate his criticism of the Salafist-tinged form of Islam, Allouache also wanted to incorporate the opinion of Sufi imams. To this end, his protagonist goes into the Algerian desert to interview Hadj M’hamed wald Safi, from the Zaouïa of Timimoun, and Hadj Moussa Ben Brahim, from the Zaouïa of El Wajda. Both imams distance themselves from these new Salafist interpretations of the Koran and highlight the importance and primacy of an earthly Paradise in which one must first accomplish his or her religious duty based on the teachings of the Koran. While in Timimoun, Nedjma also meets with the singer Souad Asla who believes that education is the remedy for this scourge of radical Islam. For her, it is incumbent upon parents and teachers to educate children with the proper moral values and rational beliefs. Favoring boys, beginning in childhood, is one of society’s flaws, and she holds mothers responsible for planting the seed in the minds of the wouldbe radicals. Sara Haidar, an emerging author, believes that “after the horrible civil war, one would expect Algerians to be atheists,” but the opposite occurred. There was indeed a cultural vacuum during and after the civil war; the youth have nothing to cling to and therefore, became easy targets for radical preachers. These extremists make them believe that they are good Muslims and that their elders are bad guys. It then becomes normal to spy on, hunt down, and even kill these bad Muslims. Herein lies the real danger, and hence the urgent need to both preserve the previous religious references and resist the Salafist extremism. This

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is also the opinion of the celebrated writer Boualem Sansal for whom the situation is so serious that a reform of Islam is necessary. With a threeminute video, he argued, a radical preacher “will spoil several millions of kids … because it [this video] is shared on the Internet and it snowballs.” This is indeed what has created the Salafist ideology, which affects most of the Muslim world. In a France Culture radio interview, Allouache himself described this situation very astutely when he said that: “Today, Paradise is used by extremists as a weapon of mass destruction.”19 For the psychoanalyst Mahmoud Boudarène, faith should be the spirit of religion and spirit is all about doubt and questioning. Even the word “Ijtihad” from the Koran refers to that constant fight within oneself to find the best. However, people who ask questions today are not only marginalized but also hunted down.20 Algerians, he argued, do not talk to each other anymore. There has been a growing intolerance since independence. One cannot doubt or oppose someone’s beliefs anymore. Boudarène goes on to blame the educational system. The “école républicaine” (“the republican school”) that he attended as a child does not exist anymore, he adds. That school taught him the values of tolerance, of exchange, and of citizenship. Schools today are mediocre because they are ideological and dogmatic. In his view, parents are also to blame for this discrepancy because they failed to “provide the balance … to correct things. In fact, children now have the upper hand over their parents.” He concludes by reminding us of the 1990s when children were spying on their parents, to see if “they drank wine, if their mothers smoked or wore makeup. They became inquisitors. Algerian school produced inquisitors.” Unfortunately, these conditions are only getting worse because “the ideological basis for this situation is still alive. The Algerian regime raises the level of fear so that society will be submissive.” Simply put, the authorities inflate the specter of radical Islam whenever necessary in order to force the population into a position where it has to pick its poison: either an authoritarian regime or the Islamists.


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These astute remarks are corroborated by the democratic activist Fethi Gharès who argues that Islamism has been used as a tool by the state to impose tyranny. For him, it was their way to turn the youth into fatalists and thus easily accept oppression. In other words, the authorities are telling them, “Do not look at our palaces and our wealth and especially do not question them. Think only of Paradise.” His friend, Kader Affak, corroborates the contention that the state is complicit in fostering fanaticism by making an interesting link between the political system and political Islam. For him, since the regime has prevented the production of any kind of complex and profound thinking in society, it becomes impossible to resist and counter the hegemony of the authoritarian state. “Political Islam,” he explains, “is an ally to despotic governments because it does not produce thoughts and ideas that help society become conscious of its condition and its future, against the backdrop of major global changes.” Through this documentary fiction, Merzak Allouache’s aim is to unveil this sham of sabotage. By depicting his native society he manages to deconstruct the Salafist discourse while paying homage to all those Algerians who have fought against radical Islamist forces, and who even made the ultimate sacrifice so that the country may preserve its true nature: a modern and democratic Mediterranean nation. His tribute to these heroic figures appears via archival footage and often without any commentary. For example, one emotional moment in particular reminds the viewers of the writer-journalist Tahar Djaout, assassinated in the spring of 1993. Nedjma’s mother had seen him in a dream, “standing and staring at her.” She then asked her daughter to take her to the exact place where Djaout was shot so she could observe her usual moment of silence. In that parking lot, a plaque reads: “In this place, Tahar Djaout, martyr of democracy and freedom, was shot and killed by terrorist Islamic groups on May 26, 1993 at 9:30 am.” Everything was said during that solemn silence. Similarly, Allouache includes the funeral of the late Hocine Aït Ahmed, which took place at the same time as the shooting of the film. This symbolic figure of opposition, to both French colonialism and

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the Algerian authorities after independence, had chosen to be buried in his native village in Kabylia instead of having an official burial at the El-Alia cemetery21 in Algiers. Allouache obviously admired this charismatic character and his lifelong fight against domination, be it French or Algerian.22 The subject of this film is so critical that Allouache chose to film in black and white as a way to force the viewer to focus on the topic at hand and not on images and colors. “The landscape of the desert,” he says, “is so sublime,” but he wants to show the darkness of society. This aspect of Allouache’s filmmaking confirms my conviction that unlike state cinema, with its celebrations of Algeria’s history of anti-colonialism or Yann Arthus-Bertrand’s film on Algeria’s natural beauty, Merzak Allouache’s cinema is concerned solely with Algerian contemporary society. In conclusion, Nedjma, as a symbolic representation of Algeria,23 is in a constant search of her own self, of her own identity. At the end of the film, there is a long shot of Nedjma walking slowly in the desert, among innumerable dunes and in a deafening silence. I read this scene as a suggestion that it is perhaps time for Algeria to make a “tabula rasa” (clean sweep) of everything in order to recreate itself, like the phoenix that rises again from its own ashes.

Divine Wind: Residual (but still lethal) terrorism The January 2013 terrorist attack of a gas plant in In Amenas (in southeast Algeria) was another reminder to both Algerians and the international community that terrorism is alive and well. The various attacks organized by AQMI (Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb) in the previous years were obviously known to all, but this time the action takes place in the south, in the heart of the Saharan desert. In his book, Between Terror and Democracy: Algeria Since 1989, the American historian, James Le Sueur, explains how the Algerian GSPC (Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat) had teamed up with al-Qaeda as early as September 11, 2006,


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and thus “transcended its national boundaries to become key players in the Salafist global jihadist campaign.”24 Things became worse after the so-called Arab Spring in 2011. The subsequent internal conflicts in Tunisia, Egypt, and especially Libya paved the way to a proliferation of jihadist cells in the Algerian south. Moreover, with the current conflicts in Syria, this Islamist violence gained a more transnational dimension. Unlike the 1990s when the Islamist terrorists were mostly Algerians, the jihadists now come from different parts of the world, mainly from Europe and the Middle East. Nour, one of the two principal characters in Divine Wind, is a bi-national. Her French (hence European) passport reveals her double identity: French and Algerian. It is worth noting here that the Islamists in this context believe in the Ouma (a transnational community of Muslims or an Islamic caliphate) and not in the nation. In other words, for the jihadists, who now include women, the fight is for a larger cause, which is that of a utopian Islamic empire. A number of French youths (most of whom of Maghrebi origin) would go to the Middle East or to the Maghreb in order to fight alongside their “brothers” and “sisters.” This age of social networking and technology facilitates this global jihad. Rachid Bouchareb’s feature film, Road to Istanbul (2016), investigates this manipulation of the European youth by the Islamists. Elodie, the young Belgian woman who leaves her country to join the Islamic state in Syria, represents this new category of European “whites” who, after their conversion to Islam, become totally brainwashed and “forced” to sacrifice their lives for the Islamic jihad. This is somehow the context for Allouache’s latest film, Divine Wind (2018). His film serves as reminder that the specter of radical Islam and especially terrorist violence have not completely disappeared in the Algerian landscape. They have been dormant for a few years but ready to strike again at any moment and in different forms. Individual and small group actions supplanted the guerrilla tactics of the 1990s.

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Synopsis and analysis Similar to Investigating Paradise (2016), Allouache once again chose the Algerian desert as the main setting for his film. He also kept the color technique of black and white to attenuate the distracting light of the desert in favor of a concentration on the topic at hand. The story focuses on a young man, Amine, and his daily routine in a small and isolated village somewhere in the Algerian desert. The only contact he has with the outside world is his cell phone and the few Internet connections in a local “cybercafé.” All we know from his brief phone conversations is that his father is worried and does not know where his son is. Amine ended up ignoring his father’s calls altogether. As for the Internet, one can only guess that Amine regularly checks his email for updates and instructions from his superiors. The days are simple and even monotonous, filled with Amine’s suspenseful wait, his regular prayers, and his multiple silent readings of the Koran. An older woman, whom he calls “Hadja,”25 brings him soup in a complete silence, similar to the deafening natural silence of the surrounding desert. We learn later on that the “hadja” works for the police. While Amine shows gratitude and respect for her, it is not the case with most Islamists who usually insist on the insignificance of human beings to which they oppose the omnipotence of Allah. This aspect is perfectly illustrated by the second protagonist in the film, Nour. Unlike Amine, Nour is not only ungrateful but also very rude to the hadja who reserved the same hospitality for her. In one instance, Nour even breaks the satellite dish to prevent the older woman from watching TV, the only pastime available for the older lady. It is certainly not a coincidence if Allouache includes such scenes in his film because this attitude of disrespect became noticeable in Algerian society. The Islamists’ codes of ethics and civility do not match those of ordinary people. In daily interactions, for example, no matter how civil people can be, if their expressions of politeness are not religious, they would be scolded in one way or another.


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The jihadists operate in an Orwellian atmosphere. They follow, unquestionably, the orders of their emirs and behave like zombies, spending most of their time praying and reading the Koran. This blind submission obliterates their most basic human social skills, such as politeness, gratitude, and respect. In one particular scene, Nour tells Amine: “You must forget your father. Forget everything.” This is just one example of the methods used by the Islamists to indoctrinate their new recruits. This strategy consists of making them first hate and then forget their families and friends, hence replacing them with their new “brothers” and “sisters,” terms they use amongst themselves. Ironically, it was only in her tormented sleep that Nour seems normal. When Amine checks on her during her nightmare, he hears her say “laissez-moi” (leave me alone). In other words, her conscience, and hence her resistance, works only during her sleep. Interestingly enough, the only moment when Nour uses French is during her nightmare. Otherwise, like most Islamists, she uses classical Arabic and not derja, the colloquial Arabic that Algerians use in their daily life. For the Islamists, classical Arabic is sacred as it is the language of the Koran, compared to derja and Berber, which they perceive as worthless and profane. This film examines the radicalization of the youth and the swift leap they make towards terrorism. This issue, which is becoming more and more relevant today, is surprisingly not covered enough by the media or by politicians. First, these youths are recruited mostly among the disenfranchised, the ones who have absolutely nothing to lose. Then the emirs offer them everything they and their families need, such as money, food, and even shelter. Lastly, through religious sermons, the preachers make these young men and women believe that what matters the most is the afterlife and that if they sacrifice their life for the cause, they are guaranteed a sublime Paradise where life is the complete opposite of what they knew on Earth. In the film, both characters find no contradiction between abhorring the West and all its representations and the use of Western products

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such as the Internet to communicate with their superiors or subordinates. In their eyes, all means are allowed as long as they are convinced that their cause is a “just” one.

The Mise-en-Abîme and Digressions Faithful to his filmmaking style, Allouache once again uses the technique of mise en abîme by including some references, which seem unrelated to the topic of the film. A non-Algerian viewer would undoubtedly miss these references and could even be confused by their inclusion. In one particular scene, for example, the older woman is waiting for her two hosts to be ready for the daily soup while watching television. In the background, we hear the TV commentator announcing in standard Arabic that unfortunately Algeria cannot broadcast the CAN (African Soccer Cup of Nations). This information, which seems trivial, is actually bad news to millions of Algerian soccer fans who are eagerly waiting to root for their national team during the dreary winter of 2017. Obviously, Allouache is hinting at this behind-the-scenes conflict between the Algerian authorities and the Qatari sports channels, holders of the broadcasting rights. In sum, while these references are independent of the story itself and can be taken out without altering anything about the story, they are meant as political commentaries on contemporary events. In fact, Allouache often develops these digressions in subsequent films, and some of them even become the entire subject of a film. For example, the hints to clandestine migration in Bab-el-Oued City (1993) led to Harragas (2009), and the issue of drugs in The Rooftops (2013) is the main topic in Madame Courage (2015). In fact, this film (Divine Wind) can even be seen as an explanation or rather an illustration for the previous film, Investigating Paradise. In this semi-documentary, we saw how Salafist preachers brainwash young people with the idea of an idyllic afterlife in the hope of having them sacrifice their lives. This logical sequel, Divine Wind, is then a representation of the acting out.


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In sum, one can easily make connections between Allouaches’s films, and in so doing the puzzle takes shape in one’s mind. In fact, in order to have a better understanding of Algeria, one needs to examine Merzak Allouache’s cinematic work as a whole.

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Notes 1. Nietzsche, Friedrich. Beyond Good and Evil, New York: Dover Publications, 1997, Aphorism 146, p. 52. 2. From “Un regard sur l’Algérie d’aujourd’hui,” par Malek Bensmaïl: http:// 3. As I am proofreading this manuscript in this spring of 2019, Bouteflika and his clan have just been ousted from the government thanks to peaceful demonstrations by the Algerian population across the country. 4. Antoinette Delafin, “Un jour sur les terrasses de Merzak Allouache: autopsie d’un regard.” Radio France International, May 15, 2015. 5. Ibid. 6. Fatima Mernissi devotes an excellent chapter in her Dreams of Tresspass: Tales of a Harem Girlhood (Perseus Books, 1995) on the rooftops, as a women’s space in the Islamic world. 7. For example, the government refused to lend Allouache a couple of police uniforms and a gun for a particular scene in The Rooftops. This compelled him to change the script on the spot and replace the police characters with an older detective, who, in my view, is one of the best characters created by Allouache in his entire film career. 8. Camus, Albert. Lyrical and critical essays, New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1968. 9. As far as history in cinema is concerned, there are several movements in Algeria. First, there was the wave of state cinema in the 1960s and 1970s with its glorification of the Algerian Revolution, depicting the Algerian people as the only hero. In recent years, the government sponsored several big budget biopics, whose aim was to glorify a select list of individual heroes. Other independent filmmakers, such as Nadir Moknèche, Azzedine Meddour, and Abderrahmane Bouguermouh, turned to history (mostly distant and even ancient history) to fill in the voids in the official version of history. Some of these films are: Délice Paloma (Moknèche, 2007), Baya’s Mountain (Meddour, 1997), and The Forgotten Hill (Bouguermouh, 1992). The last two films were made in Kabyle (a Berber dialect spoken in Kabylia). 10. Daoud, Kamel. “Je ne suis ni un intellectuel de l’Occident ni celui de la soumission chez moi.” El Watan, February 14, 2017.


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11. See Kamel Medjdoub’s article, “Les ‘surmusulmanes’ ou le fondamentalisme au féminin”, in El Watan, December 9, 2017. 12. The Big Mosque of Algiers has cost the country billions of dollars, when this money could have been used to build hospitals and schools, or simply to boost the economy. See article “La Grande Mosquée d’Alger: Un projet pharaonique qui couterait au moins l’équivalent de 20 hôpitaux” in Chouf Chouf, November 6, 2017. ( Accessed on December 15, 2017. 13. The Director’s statement, from madame-courage#/film/madame-courage/main 14. 15. The very first scene of the film is revealing. One of the two young men interviewed by Nedjma says: “What we have not had here in this life, we will discover in Eternity … in Paradise.” 16. Sheikh Chemseddine is a religious conservative Imam, who often appears on religious TV channels in Algeria and beyond. 17. This concept of 72 virgins, known as houris, is not new. It is to be found in the Koran and stipulates that each male believer will be rewarded by 72 beautiful celestial virgins in their afterlife, as a reward for their piety. 18. This fatwa of adult suckling, which calls on women to “breastfeed” men, raised a controversy in Egypt in 2013. 19. La Grande Table (Première Partie) par Olivia Gesbert, February 16, 2017: merzak-allouache-et-hiam-abbass-aujourdhui-le-paradis-est. Accessed December 2, 2017. 20. I had the chance to teach as a Fulbright scholar at the University of Algiers few years ago. In my first lecture, I started by explaining the role of literature as a helpful tool to deal with our doubts and misgivings in life. One veiled female student reacted by saying that there are no doubts in life because the Koran provides not only certainty, but responses to all questions. I would have debated that point but she refused, as religion for her is not open for debate. In her view, it is God’s word and as such, we, as humans, cannot and must not question it. 21. This cemetery, in the suburb of Algiers, contains the tombs of Algeria’s notables. 22. The initial and longer version of this film includes an additional homage, to the famed Berber singer, Matoub Lounès, assassinated in July 1998.

Uncertain Times and New Issues


See chapter 1 for more information on this protest singer, who fought against both the authorities and the Islamists. 23. This literary symbolism has been accredited to Kateb Yacine in his opus, Nedjma (Paris: Seuil, 1956). 24. LeSueur, James D. Between Terror and Democracy. Algeria Since 1989. London: Zed Books, 2010, p. 160. 25. The word “hadj” for a man, and “hadja” for a woman, is used to designate those who did the pilgrimage to Mecca. It is also used as a term across the countries of the Maghreb to show respect for the elders.

Conclusion Film simply serves us as a canvas on which to reflect together with each other. What is important is that the cinema becomes eye, mirror, and awareness. The filmmaker is the one who looks at and observes his people, to excerpt actions and situations, which he chews over, before giving them back to his people.1 —Ousmane Sembène It takes two of us to discover truth: one to utter it and one to understand it. —Khalil Gibran Ousmane Sembène’s quote above encapsulates both the essence and the purpose of Merzak Allouache’s entire cinematic work. For almost half a century, Allouache’s obsession has been to depict Algeria on screen. In so doing, he has addressed sensitive issues, broke taboos, raised questions, opened debates, and exposed injustices. In sum, his cinema has not only shed light on many of the crucial issues affecting Algeria since decolonization but also participated in a wave of opposition against all dark forces, be it the authorities, the Islamists, or anachronistic traditions. His films also serve as a mirror for all Algerians who need to pause and ponder what has become of their country at the dawn of this millennium, a time marked by uncertainty, fear, despair, and violence. It is only after this acknowledgment that the Algerian people can remedy their shortcomings, overcome their sufferings, and prepare a better future. The seventeenth-century philosopher Baruch Spinoza once said: “I have made a ceaseless effort not to ridicule, not to bewail, not to scorn


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human actions, but to understand them.” Merzak Allouache works with the same state of mind. His aim is not to blame or to shame but to better understand the reasons behind his native country’s many predicaments since independence in 1962. In this sense, he is a historian of the present. By making a “filmic diary,” he not only provides us with a genealogical study of Algerian society in general but also encourages us to think in the long term and to inscribe important events and periods in a bigger context. His cinema is subtle and invites the viewers to participate by filling in the blanks. In other words, it works as a puzzle. The viewer needs to be able to connect all the pieces in order to see the full picture and hence acquire a better understanding of contemporary Algeria in all its complexities and contradictions. By shedding light on contemporary Algerian society, Allouache is also showing us his own complex identity. He is a man who lives between two countries (France and Algeria), two continents, two cultures, and two languages. Allouache lives in post-independence Algeria, but he also witnessed, as a teenager, the transition from colonial to postcolonial Algeria. This position as an insider-outsider gives him a unique perspective on both societies. According to Will Higbee, Allouache defines himself: Not as an émigré director, but as a cinéaste de passage: a filmmaker whose movement between France and Algeria is dictated by the political, artistic and economic conditions associated with each new project … maintaining a presence that is simultaneously between and within the film cultures and industries of France and the Maghreb.2 By constantly moving between the two shores of the Mediterranean, Allouache not only notices the changes but also evaluates the severity of each situation. He is like a seismograph that detects and records the seismic waves that constantly affect society. In concrete terms, Allouache is not interested in “the trains that arrive on time.” His entire cinematic work focuses on the pressing issues affecting contemporary Algerian



society such as Islamic fundamentalism, violence, poverty, migration, racism, sexism, exclusion, authoritarianism, corruption, falsified history, institutional and self-censorship, among other scourges. In fact, he often says that he is not the filmmaker of the Algerian Ministry of Tourism. I have already explained in the introduction how Allouache is the complete opposite of Yann Arthus-Bertrand whose film Algeria from Above serves as an advertising tool for the Algerian authorities. Merzak Allouache believes that a filmmaker, or any artist for that matter, cannot really do much to change the status quo. Without political power, especially in a Third World country, it is indeed quite impossible for artists to find solutions to the multiple problems affecting society. Allouache acknowledges the political engagement in his films, but he does not believe that they can bring about any change: I consider myself a filmmaker who must be engaged… I am happy to speak about the situation in my country, but at the same time, I would point out that I am not a politician. The responsibilities of someone who makes a film under these conditions are not the same as those of a European or North American director.3 While it is true that politicians are the ones who can generate change, it would be wrong to underestimate the impact of Allouache’s cinematic work on Algerian society. In addition to shedding light on multiple complex issues, some of his films have also helped Algerians overcome the trauma of the Dark Decade. Because the authorities built a wall of silence around this tragic period, Allouache took it upon himself to fight against both amnesia and the suppression of emotions (refoulement), which, as I explained in chapter 5, often lead to worse consequences. Guy Austin corroborates this hypothesis when he asserts that: “Narrativising suffering is one way of coping with it.”4 My analysis of The Repentant (2011) illustrates how the story itself counters the tabooed silence imposed by the state. Broadly speaking, Merzak Allouache’s cinema reveals what the authorities and conservative forces in Algeria dissimulate. In a collective French documentary, titled A Declaration of Love for Cinema,5 Allouache


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confesses: “Je filme parce que j’aime la subversion.” (“I film because I love subversion.”) His engagement, however, comes with consequences. Allouache faced harsh criticism and even scorn from what I call the “internal enemies of Algeria.” They are the ones who benefit from the status quo; whoever attempts to confront them and propose change becomes a victim. This has been the case since independence in 1962. Political opponents, intellectuals, and artists have paid a heavy price for their dissent. Some were marginalized (Kateb Yacine and Mouloud Mammeri), others forced into exile (Hocine Aït Ahmed, Rachid Mimouni), while others (Ali Mécili, Tahar Djaout, Matoub Lounès, Cheb Hasni, Abdelkader Alloula, and Mohamed Boudiaf) were assassinated. The list is by no means exhaustive. Merzak Allouache’s case is more complex. While he started his film career working in state-run cinema, he gradually pulled away from it even though he later received some governmental support for his work. Allouache has always strived to remain an independent filmmaker, protecting his work from any type of political pressure. So far, this freedom has allowed him to express certain opinions and cover particular issues that most Algerian filmmakers cannot or simply do not dare address. The government’s reaction to his work is, to say the least, pernicious. While it financed some of his films, the state has completely ignored them. Other than a couple of minor festivals in Algeria, his films have not been screened in Algeria, nor has Algerian Television shown them, with the exception for his 1976 film, Omar Gatlato. Making matters worse, movie theaters have steadily disappeared in Algeria since the 1990s. Paradoxically, the only recourse left for Algerians wishing to have access to Allouache’s films has been illegal streaming on the Internet. While this fact might seem an outrage to a filmmaker, Allouache is aware that this discrepancy has a good side to it because a film without an audience is hardly a film. The situation became more complicated in 2009 when the Algerian authorities deemed that Allouache had gone too far with Harragas, a drama concerning the helpless and disenfranchised Algerian youth who risk their lives “burning the sea,” in the hope of



finding a better future elsewhere. One year earlier, the authorities had already refused Allouache permission to shoot his other telefilm on illegal migration (Tamanrasset, 2008) in the Algerian desert. But, 2009 marked not only the end of state funding for his film projects, but also the beginning of a smear campaign against his subsequent cinematic work. Obviously, the Algerian government, as is the case for any authoritarian state, fears the power of the image. Furthermore, some in the media have accused Allouache of disparaging the country and tarnishing its image abroad. This criticism is obviously unfair, because one does not blame the doctor for diagnosing the disease. Similarly, the filmmaker’s assessment does not make him the cause of the problems. In sum, Allouache is simply not “a prophet in his own country.” However, the efforts to sabotage his work did not discourage him from working. On the contrary, they have reinforced his desire to make more films. In fact, during the last decade, he has become more prolific. Since 2008 (the year of the Tamanrasset issue), Allouache has made ten films, an average of one film per year.6 It would be safe to call Allouache’s work “a cinema of resistance.” In fact, I am convinced that had Kateb Yacine lived longer, he would have called Allouache “Le Maquisard du Cinéma” (“the combatant of cinema”), in reference to his expression “les maquisards de la chanson” (“the combatants of song”), which designated a group of protest singers in the 1970s and 1980s, namely Lounis Aït Menguellet, Ferhat Mehenni, Matoub Lounès, and Idir. There are several similarities between Kateb Yacine’s narration of Algeria through literature, particularly in his opus Nedjma, and Merzak Allouache’s own filmic representation of Algeria. Their respective characters endure history, and most, if not all of them, are common people, those who have always been on the margins of society. In fact, despite their status as international artists, Kateb and Allouache have always remained close to the disenfranchised, the underprivileged, and minorities. Their respective works reflect that connection and show anti-heroes in their daily struggles against economic hardships, political instability, social injustice, contempt, and intermittent violence. More importantly, popular culture forms the wellspring of creativity for both


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artists. They both drew from the cultural heritage and the oral traditions of their country to create and inscribe timeless stories in texts and images. It is no wonder then that they both rely on the colloquial (marginalized) languages, namely tamazight (Berber) and derja (dialectal Arabic). Similar to some world-class directors from Africa, such as Ousmane Sembène and Youssef Chahine, Allouache challenges the hegemonic discourses in his society: namely, those of the state and the Islamists. In so doing, he not only offers a counter narrative of his country but also contributes to raising political consciousness among Algerians. During four decades of filmmaking, Allouache has developed his own style, which is characteristically hybrid, nonlinear, nonconformist, multilayered, provocative, cerebral, demanding, and constantly evolving. In this regard, Allouache has not only inspired, but also paved the way for this new generation of Algerian filmmakers who are striving to find new ways of depicting contemporary Algeria on the screen. They see in his successful filmmaking career proof that one can make films without great difficulty outside the official circles and with very modest means, especially in this age of advanced technology. It would be wrong, however, to reduce Allouache’s cinema to the Algerian context alone. His films have been acknowledged and earned praise worldwide. The lack of recognition in his own country has been eclipsed by his increasing prominence at the world stage. In any case, most of the issues he grapples with in his films are universal. The stories he tells are obviously Algerian, but most of them could take place anywhere in the world. Radical Islam, terrorism, corruption, injustice, drugs, gender and class inequality, poverty, and migration are universal themes that transcend both time and space. In providing this panoramic view on Merzak Allouache’s cinema, I have also attempted to weave in my own personal perspective on Algeria. I am aware that this book could not have answered adequately the multiple questions that I raised in the introduction, but I hope that it has at least provided a contextual background and some perspectives that might



help the readers better understand not just particular facts and events in Algeria’s contemporary history, but also some of Allouache’s films. In a response to a question about his love for Algeria and its future, Allouache stated: Algeria is a very beautiful country, very diverse, but unfortunately, it hasn't yet managed to click into what everyone is waiting for, especially the younger generations who are increasingly impatient and angry.7 It is true that the “click” which Algerians have been waiting for has not yet materialized, but let’s not forget that Algeria has existed as a nation only since 1962. The Jacobinist conception of “état-nation” (“nation state”) has also contributed to the political chaos of this young, yet ancient, country. I believe that globalization has also arrived half a century too early for Algeria because by the time Algerians finally became ready to address some of their major issues, technology and sudden changes in world politics arrived swiftly, only to overwhelm and disturb the “healing” process and interrupt the natural course of history. In fact, Algeria has never had a steady and a continuous course of time. Its history (and that of the Maghreb in general) since the Phoenician conquest three thousand years ago has been one of successive colonizations, which culminated with the French conquest in 1830 and then with independence in July 1962. Therefore, Algerians never had an opportunity to recreate their own sovereignty and be masters of their own destiny. Kateb Yacine best describes this situation in his opus, Nedjma: Ce pays [l’Algérie] n’est pas encore venu au monde: trop de pères pour naître au grand jour, trop d’ambitions déçues, mêlées, confondues, contraintes de ramper dans les ruines…8 This country [Algeria] has not come into the world yet: too many fathers to be born in broad daylight, too many ambitions disappointed, mixed, and merged races, forced to crawl in ruins…


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For my part, I believe that Algeria must build its own essence on its rich diversity not on the millennia-old system of root identity,9 exclusivist politics, and centralist rule, which characterized Algeria before and after independence. Each and every group (be it ethnic or religious) can and must find its rightful place in this new nation where Algerians may at last coexist in peace, instead of hurting each other as was the case during the Dark Decade of the 1990s. To achieve this purpose, Algeria must first find its true identity, fully acknowledge its long history, accept and respect its indigenous Berber heritage along with those of other minorities, and finally break off the shackles of radical Islam, which have been preventing this nation from finally “coming into the world,” and eventually become the real “pearl of the Mediterranean.”



Notes 1. Ghali, Noureddine. “Interview with Ousmane Sembène.” In Film and Politics in the Third World, edited by John Downing. New York: Praeger, 1986. pp. 45–50. 2. Higbee, Will. “Merzak Allouache: (Self-) Censorship, social critique, and the Limits of Political Engagement in Contemporary Algerian Cinema (Algeria)”. In Gugler, Josef. Ten Arab Filmmakers, Political Dissent and Social Critique. Bloomington, Indiana University Press, 2015, p. 190. 3. Gugler, Josef. Ten Arab Filmmakers, Political Dissent and Social Critique. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2015, p. 4. Austin, Guy. “Against amnesia: representations of memory in Algerian cinema.” Journal of African Cinemas, Vol. 2 Issue 1, 2010, pp. 27–35. 5. From Lumière and Compagnie, not rated, Fox Lorber, France. 88 minutes. 1997. 6. From 1976, the year when he made his first feature film, Omar Gatlato, to 2008, Allouache made 15 films (in 32 years). 7. Accessed on December 3, 2017. 8. Yacine, Kateb. Nedjma, Paris: Seuil, 1956, p. 183. 9. In his Poétique de la Relation and in Introduction à une poétique du divers, the Martinican poet and philosopher, Édouard Glissant explains the difference between the “identité-racine” (“root identity”) and “identité-relation” (“relation identity”). While the first one is vertical and excludes the others, the second one is like the rhizomatic root “reaching out to meet other roots.” (Introduction à une poétique du divers, p. 23).

Images Figure 1. Merzak Allouache.

Source: Note: Created November 21, 2017. Creative Commons. Author: Ahlem1975


Figure 2. The Rooftops. Band Scene.

Algeria on Screen

Source: JBA Production.



Figure 3. Film poster, Investigating Paradise.

Source: dir. Merzak Allouache, 2016.

Note: This image is made by and belongs to the production company Les Asphofilms (Bahia Allouache), who gives us permission to reproduce.


Algeria on Screen

Figure 4. Nedjma reading a book.

Source: Reproduced from Investigating Paradise (dir. Merzak Allouache, 2016).

Note: This image is made by and belongs to the production company Les Asphofilms (Bahia Allouache), who gives us permission to reproduce.

Figure 5. Nedjma and Mustapha discussing their inquiry.

Source: Reproduced from Investigating Paradise (dir. Merzak Allouache, 2016).

Note: This image is made by and belongs to the production company Les Asphofilms (Bahia Allouache), who gives us permission to reproduce.



Figure 6. Divine Wind poster.

Source: dir. Merzak Allouache, 2018.

Note: This image is made by and belongs to the production company Les Asphofilms (Bahia Allouache), who gives us permission to reproduce.


Figure 7. Nour, the terrorist, scolding Amin.

Algeria on Screen

Source: Reproduced from Divine Wind (dir. Merzak Allouache, 2018).

Note: This image is made by and belongs to the production company Les Asphofilms (Bahia Allouache), who gives us permission to reproduce.

Interview with Merzak Allouache

Nabil Boudraa: Paraphrasing Camus a bit, I could say with certainty that you have not filmed anything that has not directly or indirectly been about Algeria. Is this a conscious choice or is it simply because our country has been suffering through so many difficulties for such a long time, hence the necessity to address this situation in your films? Merzak Allouache: I was born and raised in Algiers. I have not lived here [France] for a long time, but I often visit and naturally it is where my inspiration flourishes the most. It has been that way since the first short films I made at the Institute of Cinema in Algiers. As soon as I set foot in this country, in this city [Algiers], I have the impression of having never left. I encounter the same situations, the same stories, the same problems, the same mentality, with escalating severity, while it seems like everything has been set in stone for decades. I also recapture here the memories of my youth, with a touch of melancholy. I am deeply rooted in this country, on a gut level. I have made most of my films in Algeria, based on scenarios, which tell stories that take place in this country, with Algerian locations, characters, dialogues, etc. It is obviously a choice. I feel at ease when I shoot here, even though, paradoxically, I am under maximum stress most of the time, and usually facing a rather hostile environment. It is something I cannot explain, which is almost masochistic. Shooting in Algeria requires a large dose of adrenaline. And then, there are these young technicians, actresses, actors, who collaborate with me and infuse me with their energy. And when I make a film somewhere else, there is always a small (or large) component related to this country that sneaks into the movie (Salut cousin!, Chouchou, À bicyclette, Alger-Beyrouth, etc.). Nabil Boudraa: During our first interview, you told me that you think of your movie as a journal. Thus, you are like an historian, but of the


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present, one who observes and takes the pulse of Algerian society, one who records, and then presents the transformations of the country since independence. In other words, your cinema, which is a kind of seismograph, allows us, the spectators, to make a “sociological study” of postcolonial Algeria. In fact, the main character of your first film (Omar Gatlato) reveals this to us, from the beginning, by making the transition between colonial Algeria (with the death of his father during the Algerian War) and the situation that his generation is facing after independence. Is that not so? Merzak Allouache: A filmed journal! Upon reviewing my cinematography (twenty-five films made in Algeria and eight films in Europe), one notices the intimate connection between my films and the period in which they take place. If you watch them carefully, you can find reference points that reflect the exact time when the scenes were shot. After the first one (Omar Gatlato), which is already an acknowledgment of failure (the confusion and discontent of young people a few years after independence), all my other films establish, through the stories I tell, a link, which reveals as a backdrop, the evolution (or stagnation) of Algerian society during the different time periods, and the sometimes violent upheavals, that affected it. However, I often say during debates that I am not a sociologist. I am just a filmmaker who observes society, who creates stories, inspired by what he sees, and makes them into movies. Nabil Boudraa: It seems to me that there are two visions of Algeria in cinema. There is the vision of “L’Algérie vue du ciel” (Algeria seen from above) exemplified by the cinema of the “authorities” that tries to highlight the country’s natural beauty and rehash the anticolonial struggle. However, there is also the other perspective, including your own, which shows us the deficiencies, loopholes, and sabotage of the country since independence. In other words, it is not nature that is so important here, but rather the culture. Therefore, we ask ourselves many questions: What has not worked? How did we get into this situation? What have we done with this country which could have been a model

Interview with Merzak Allouache


of success in Africa, and even in the Mediterranean? It seems to me that Algerians should reflect on these issues and ask themselves questions like these, not just to understand the past, but especially to prepare better for the future. Merzak Allouache: I think that the “authorities” have never had a true political vision in regard to cinema, either during the years of the one-party system after independence, or in the present. Ever since I’ve been in this field, my colleagues and I have fought for the emergence of a coherent cultural policy, with planning, training, construction of a laboratory, renovation of theaters, etc. in vain. In recent years, a tacit line of demarcation has been established between the proponents of a cinema that provides a “beautiful image of the country” and the filmmakers (unfortunately few in number) whose ambition is simply to produce films. And then there was the apotheosis created by the famous special interest film, made by a foreigner: L’Algérie vue du ciel (Algeria seen from the sky), which excited the Algerians who would like to be perceived as living in a marvelous country. In fact, showing the country as seen from the sky is very beautiful, very aesthetic (which is also the case for all countries filmed from above). This method, which approximates propaganda and idealized images, does not interest me. Moreover, it is a product of television, in the same style as the famous Ramadan series that presents an Algerian society that roams around among spacious parlors, luxury cars, and sanitized streets. It is also in the same style as those biopics called “revolutionary films” that are sliced up and televised as serials. To get back to true cinema, we have to admit that it has been moribund for decades, specifically, because we cannot make a film (other than a special-interest film) without relying on foreign financing and because the theaters and the audience are almost nonexistent. In order to make people believe in the existence of an Algerian cinema, it is necessary to make, with much fanfare, those famous commemorative “films” that have huge budgets, meant to evoke the past, the heroism, and the glory, and that are, alas, distressingly naïve and deficient in content as well


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as form. These films are not viewed by anybody, and they only serve (again, alas) to hide the present reality and to avoid a dialogue about the current situation. Nabil Boudraa: I have the impression that you have experienced the ambiguity that our Francophone writers felt during and after colonization, knowing that they were writing for their natural audience, their people, but it was mainly others who read their work, which causes frustration and even schizophrenia. Thus, Malek Haddad stopped writing completely and Kateb Yacine has turned to the theater in the languages of the people, specifically Darja and Kabyle. In other words, you would love to have your films viewed in Algeria and for them to be discussed as they used to be but, unfortunately, that is not the case. Right? Merzak Allouache: Yes, it is the same ambiguity, although my frustration is not the same, since my films are not Francophone. All the dialogues are in Arabic (Derja), totally understandable to the Algerian spectators. Except that, as I said earlier, these spectators no longer exist. At the present time, I think that neither Francophone writers nor Arabic speaking writers are really read since bookstores have suffered the same fate as movie theaters. As far as I am concerned, I have suffered for several decades from the lack of audience, of discussion, of real critique of my films. My rather particular and traumatizing situation is that if my films are not selected for international festivals, or are not distributed in European theaters, they do not exist. So, it is a failure of a cultural and cinematographic policy. Nabil Boudraa: Speaking of frustration, I think you probably also regret not having the luxury of making more comedies because of the tragic context of our country. Therefore, maybe I am wrong, but I have the impression that your sense of humor becomes less and less evident in your films, especially after Harragas (2009). Moreover, most of your films after this period end either with a death (Le Repenti and Les Terrasses) or with a failure (Harragas and Madame Courage). Is that not a sign that our society is going from bad to worse, hence your justifiable and latent pessimism?

Interview with Merzak Allouache


Merzak Allouache: Exactly. The present situation does not really make me laugh nor make me want to produce a comedy. My pessimism is induced by what I read, what I hear, what I see, ever since I have been in Algiers. An intensified violence, highly sensitive. Many shameful acts. People who complain about everything, etc. You would have to be blind not to see the pervasive decline. You meet so many young people who drop out and try to flee the country, having succumbed to drugs or fundamentalist religious dogma, most of them indoctrinated in retrograde schools. How can we speak of comedy in a society plagued by anxiety and living in profound unrest? I wish, from the bottom of my heart, to rediscover one day, as soon as possible, a more calm society, more relaxed, more Mediterranean. But time passes, and for now… Nabil Boudraa: In the 70s and 80s, Kateb Yacine nicknamed a whole generation of protest singers (including Matoub Lounès, Ferhat Mehenni, Idir, and Lounis Aït Menguellet) “the maquisards (resistance fighters) of song.” Your cinematographic work, since Omar Gatlato, is very politically committed, and therefore, am I wrong to nickname you “the maquisard of the cinema,” even if you refuse to say that you are a political filmmaker? Merzak Allouache: I do not refuse to say that I am a political filmmaker since I consider myself to be a filmmaker with a duty to engage socially and politically. However, my films are not just political mouthpieces. They are films, usually fiction, that do not hide the problems facing the country. My not being a political activist does not mean that I do not have an opinion. One can discover what I think by looking just below the surface of all of my films. Nabil Boudraa: In some interviews, you seem to underestimate the impact that cinema, and thus your films, have on society. Indeed, the act of laying bare the suffering of a people, of raising awareness in certain circles, of starting some discussion in society about amnesia, repression, violence, and other evils, is at the same time an act of resistance and of hope.


Algeria on Screen

Merzak Allouache: Once again, it is a question of the relationship between a work of art and its audience. Whether it is literature, theater, painting, song writing, or cinema, if the audience does not exist then there is no impact, no awareness, no artistic discussion. The artist finds himself alone, asking himself if what he has to say is in symbiosis with what society thinks. I no longer know what Algerians really think of my films. I know that since they are pirated, they are seen on the internet, but I have no idea of their impact. I discover here and there some comments, some insults, that is as far as it goes. Very much against my own wishes, the only viewers with whom I interact in theaters, and with whom I discuss at festivals, are Europeans. In this paradoxical situation, and having lost my original audience a long time ago, I try to convince myself to continue making films and to keep hoping that some day my films will be part of the Algerian cinematographic heritage. I hope that they will be seen by cinephiles of future generations who will have studied cinema in grammar school and in high school, and who will have created film clubs in all the cities of the country. Nabil Boudraa: There are many leitmotivs in your films. For example, some young men, usually protagonists, are filled with childlike wonder when they discover various objects (the singing puppet in Omar Gatlato; the photos in the cellphone with the second Omar in Madame Courage; Yasmine’s journal with Hakim in L’Autre Monde; the Egyptian sketch on television with Rachid in Le Repenti, etc.). Is it a way to mock their “hypervirility?” Or is it a way to show that they are simply ordinary young men, naïve and innocent at heart, but caught between a power that neglects them and a situation that they are enduring in spite of themselves? Merzak Allouache: There is very little irony regarding the hypervirility of my masculine characters. I am simply trying to show that deep inside every human being we can detect some ambiguities. In each of my characters one can find moments of tenderness and sincerity that make their childhood resurface. These characters that you mention: Hakim in L’Autre Monde, Rachid in Le Repenti, and Omar in Madame Courage

Interview with Merzak Allouache


all live in different times and as agents of different stories, in situations that are always dramatic, violent, and perhaps extreme, but I make sure that they still have an element of humanity, of kindness. I have a lot of empathy for both the female and male characters in my films. I like to develop a couple scenes that somehow evoke their childhood and that surprise them. Nabil Boudraa: I want to mention another example of leitmotiv. There is a thread that connects almost all of your films since Omar Gatlato and that is the common people. That makes me think that your cinema is even more similar to that of Ousmane Sembène, Youssef Chahine, Ken Loach, and the brothers Dardenne. Would you care to elaborate on that? Merzak Allouache: I come from the common people. I was raised in a very humble family. I lived in a working-class neighborhood on the hills of Bab el Oued. It is natural that from the beginning I have wanted to talk about the common people. The uncultured, social-climbing “new bourgeoisie” do not interest me very much in life, nor in regards to creating characters for my films. They will appear once in awhile, but they are not omnipresent, and I use them in a mocking way (Les Aventures d’un héros, Les Terrasses). It is a choice. Since my childhood, having haunted the streets of Algiers that I know by heart, my nature compels me to favor making films in natural settings and especially in workingclass neighborhoods. I find the dodgy side of this city to be very aesthetic, even though I wish that things would change as soon as possible and that this capital would become “Alger la blanche” (its ideal vision). Meanwhile this madness, this houma spirit (herd mentality), this deafening racket, does not leave me indifferent. To understand me, you need to know that I am a fan of Mouloudia d’Alger (a soccer club in Algiers). Nabil Boudraa: The character of the police captain in Les Terrasses says: “We wanted to change the country, but it is the country that has changed us.” This sentence summarizes the fate of postcolonial Algeria. In other words, all the hope of the 60’s has evaporated and has even forced people into a kind of lethargy and defeatism. Do you agree?


Algeria on Screen

Merzak Allouache: It is a line taken from Etorre Scola’s very beautiful film Nous nous sommes tant aimés (We loved each other so much). It encapsulates the state of mind of this police captain who is awaiting his retirement with some bitterness, and it refers back to my generation and the bygone time of political romanticism in the 70’s, (I lived through May ’68 in Paris), and as you mentioned, to the backflow, the defeatism, and the incredible implosion that followed. Algeria experienced this “evaporation” of progressives in a dramatic fashion, culminating in the bloody decade of the 90’s. As Kamel Daoud would say, a cancer took hold, and its metastases have invaded Algerian society. The people of my generation have died, departed, or become disillusioned and melancholic spectators of a present that escapes them. This is the sadness that I have tried to depict by means of the police captain who suffers from Alzheimer’s, and whom I film from behind in the night that is shrouding Bab el-Oued. Nabil Boudraa: The character of the fool in Les Terrasses is both interesting and pertinent for Algerian society today. First, he reminds me of the fool in your other film, Les Aventures d’un héros (1978), who tries to warn and protect the young Mehdi from the lies, betrayal, and greed of his community (which I interpret as a microcosm of the nation). So, the character of the majnoun (“crazy person”) in Les Terrasses tries to tell the truth, to propose a corrected version of history, to distinguish truth from falsehood, and thus destroy the false idols. Is that not the function that you attribute to him in this film? Merzak Allouache: By means of this character, I am satirizing the famous fool in many Arabic and Algerian films of the past decades. In fact, the fool was used to expose certain “truths” that one might not want to declare directly. He is still an ambiguous character who challenges the spectator and makes him or her question certain things. In Les Terrasses, the fool in a cage reminds me of my childhood, when I visited a relative in the Casbah; there was a fool there who scared me, but he did not say anything, whereas the fool in films gives voice to rumors. It is also the

Interview with Merzak Allouache


fool who tells a “story” to the little girl, who symbolizes a new generation that cannot avoid being inundated with lies. Nabil Boudraa: Speaking of characters, I noticed that a few of your recent films include some characters who speak in Kabyle (in Normal! and in Les Terrasses, for example). It is interesting that you do not translate their words, even if the other characters (and most of the spectators) can’t understand Kabyle. Why is that? Furthermore, I interpret this insertion of Kabyle in the dialogues as a way for you to be inclusive and unifying at a time when certain groups in our society have a strong tendency to exclude, divide, and sow hatred in peoples’ hearts. Merzak Allouache: In fact, I do not think about language, because I write my scenes as I shoot my films. I am a Kabyle from Algiers and unfortunately, I do not speak Kabyle. During my childhood, when I visited the village, my cousins made fun of me rather than teaching me this language… In my films, the dialogues in Kabyle could be used essentially to situate a character and show that he belongs to this culture. As for my Algerian spectators, they have not watched my films since L’Homme qui regardait les fenêtres (The Man Who Looked at Windows) made in 1982. As for subtitles, I made a documentary in 1995, Jours tranquilles en Kabylie (Quiet Days in Kabylia), about the situation in this region during the time that terrorism was rampant. Among others, I interviewed Matoub Lounès. He preferred to express himself in French. Nabil Boudraa: Your characters often reappear in your films. I am thinking of Hassan Mal-de-Mer (in Omar Gatlato in 1976, then in Harragas in 2009), but especially the protagonist Omar (first in Omar Gatlato, then 40 years later in Madame Courage). Evidently it is not a random choice, but isn’t this echo among characters a way to tell us that certain problems haven’t really changed since the 70’s, like the unrest among young people, the misery, the state’s hands-off policy toward society’s issues, relations between men and women, etc.? Upon examining your latest films, specifically Les Terrasses, Madame Courage, and Enquête au paradis, you could even say that things have become worse in the last 40 years.


Algeria on Screen

Merzak Allouache: Absolutely, the problems have not changed since my first film. And they have even been exacerbated. But that doesn’t have anything to do with the names of my characters. My decision to use them is often instinctive. Perhaps they are names and nicknames that I like. I called the protagonist of my first film Omar, because that was my father’s name, and I wanted to honor him. Translated for the author by Kayla S. García

Merzak Allouache’s Complete Filmography

2020 Paysages d’automne 2018 Vent divin 2016 Enquête au Paradis 2015 Madame Courage 2013 Les Terrasses 2012 Le Repenti 2011 La Baie d'Alger (TV) 2011 Normal! 2010 Tata Bakhta (TV) 2009 Harragas 2008 Tamanrasset (TV) 2005 Bab el web 2003 Chouchou 2001 L'Autre monde 2001 À bicyclette (TV) 1999 Pepe Carvalho (série TV) - épisode : La solitude du manager 1998 Alger-Beyrouth: Pour mémoire (TV) 1997 Vie et mort des journalistes algériens


Algeria on Screen

1996 L'Amour est à réinventer, dix histoires d'amours au temps du sida (segment "Dans la décapotable") 1994 Jours Tranquilles en Kabylie (documentary) 1995 Salut cousin! 1995 Lumière et compagnie (segment "Merzak Allouache/Aubervilliers") 1993 Bab el-Oued City 1991 Voices of Ramadan (BBC 2-documentary) 1989 L'Après-Octobre (documentary) 1989 Femmes en mouvements (documentary) 1986 Un Amour à Paris 1982 L'Homme qui regardait les fenêtres 1978 Les Adventures d’un héro 1976 Omar Gatlato 1974 Tipasa l’ancienne (documentary) 1973 Nous et la révolution agraire (documentary) 1964 Le Voleur (short)

List of Acronyms and Abbreviations

ACB Association de Culture Berbère AQMI Al Queda au Maghreb Islamique AIS Armée Islamique du Salut ALN Armée de Libération Nationale AUMA Association des Ulémas Musulmans Algériens CAC Centre Algérien de la Cinématographie CDC Centre de Diffusion Cinématographique CERAM Centre d’Études et de Recherches Amazigh CILSS Comité Inter-États pour La Lutte Contre la Sécheresse CMA Congrès Mondial Amazigh CNC Centre National de la Cinématographie (France) CNCA Centre National du Cinéma et de l’Audiovisuel CNRA Conseil National de la Révolution Algérienne DRS Département du renseignement et de la Sécurité DST Direction de la Sécurité du Territoire ENA Étoile Nord-Africaine ENPA Entreprise Nationale des Productions Audiovisuelles ENTV Entreprise Nationale de Télévision FF Fédération de France FFS Front des Forces Socialistes FIS Front Islamique du Salut FLN Front de Libération Nationale FPACF First PanAfrican Cultural Festival


Algeria on Screen

GIA Groupe Islamique Armé GPRA Gouvernement Provisoire de la République Algérienne GSPC Groupe Salafiste pour la Prédication et le Combat HCA Haut Commissariat à l’Amazighité HCE Haut Comité d’État IDHEC Institut des Hautes Études Cinématographiques (France) INC Institut National de Cinéma LADDH Ligue Algérienne de Défense des Droits de l’Homme MCB Mouvement Culturel Berbère MNP Mouvement National Populaire MPDC Mouvement Populaire, Démocratique et Constitutionnel OAS Organisation Armée Secrète ONCIC Office National du Commerce et de l’Industrie Cinématographiques ORA Organisation de la Résistance Armée OS Organisation spéciale PCA Parti Communiste Algérien PPA Parti du Peuple Algérien RCD Rassemblement pour la Culture et la Démocratie SDC Service de Diffusion Cinématographique SM Sécurité Militaire SONATRACH Société Nationale pour la Recherche, la Production, le Transport, la Transformation, et la Commercialisation des Hydrocarbures UGTA Union Générale des Travailleurs Algériens

Chronology of Algeria

Colonial Period 3rd century B.C. - Berber King Massinissa unifies Numidians, Massyles, and Massaesyles. He establishes Cirta (modern day Constantine) as the Capital. 112–105 B.C. - Jugurtha, Massinissa’s grandson, rebels against Rome. 354 - Birth of the Berber Saint Augustine in Tagaste (Modern day Souk Ahras, Algeria). 439-533 -Vandals rule North Africa. 533 - Byzantines take over. 649 - Arabs invade the Maghreb from the east. Fierce resistance by indigenous Berbers. After defeat, they started conversion to Islam. 711 - Moors invade Spain and Portugal. 1492 - Reconquista. Thousands of Jews and Moorish Muslims take refuge in the Maghreb. 1510 - Spain invades Morocco and Algeria. 1515 - Ottomans are invited to help expel the Spaniards. Ottomans rule most of Algeria and Tunisia. 1830 July - French colonization of Algeria begins. 1832 - Revolts by Emir Abdelkader. 1850–1871 - Revolts in Kabylia and the Aurès regions. 1870 - Crémieux Decree offers French citizenship to Algerian Jews. 1914–1918 - Thousands of Algerians serve as soldiers in World War I.


Algeria on Screen

1942 - Allied Forces land in Algeria. 1945 May 8 - Massacre of tens of thousands of Algerians in Sétif, Guelma, and Kherrata. 1954 November 1 - Algerian War of Independence begins. 1956 August 20 - Ramdane Abane organizes the Soummam conference, taking place for three days in Kabylia, where he writes an early constitution––declaring “la primauté de l’intérieur sur l’extérieur,” meaning that militants of interior Algeria overruled those outside, and “la primauté du politique sur le militaire,” meaning that politicians would supersede the military. 1958 - Ramdane Abane was betrayed and assassinated in Morocco by some leaders of the FLN.

Post-independence Algeria 1962 July 5 - Algeria gains independence from France. 1963 - Ahmed Ben Bella elected as first president. Hocine Aït Ahmed creates FFS (Socialist Forces Front) and starts dissidence in his home region, Kabylia. 1965 - Colonel Houari Boumédiène overthrows Ben Bella in a coup d’état. 1966 - Nationalization of the mine industry and insurance companies. 1971 - Nationalization of the natural gas and oil industry. Launch of agrarian revolution. 1976 – Boumédiène––sole candidate––is elected president. He introduces a new constitution, which confirms commitment to socialism and reminds the population that the National Liberation Front (FLN) is the only political party. Islam is declared as state religion. 1978 December - Boumédiène dies.

Chronology of Algeria


1979 February - Colonel Chadli Bendjedid is new president. 1980 April - Riots in Kabylia, known as “Berber Spring,” for recognition of Berber language and culture. Violent repression by the government. Several casualties. 1984 - President Bendjedid is re-elected. Family Code is adopted. 1986 - Rising inflation and unemployment, exacerbated by the collapse of oil and gas prices, lead to a wave of strikes and violent demonstrations. 1988 October - Riots in Algiers and other parts of the country against economic conditions are severely repressed. Estimated number of casualties: 600 killed, mostly the youths. 1989 - A new constitution allows creation of several political parties. Islamic Salvation Front (FIS) is founded by Abbassi Madani and Ali Belhadj. 1990 - End of agrarian reform. The FIS wins 55 per cent of the vote in local elections. 1991 - Government announces parliamentary elections in June 1991 and plans changes to electoral system, including restrictions on campaigning in mosques. FIS reacts by calling general strike. State of siege declared, elections postponed. FIS leaders Abbassi Madani and Ali Belhadj arrested and jailed. 1991 December - In the first round of general elections, the FIS wins 188 seats outright, and seems virtually certain to obtain an absolute majority in the second round. 1992 January 4 - The National People's Assembly is dissolved by presidential decree, and on January 11, President Chadli, apparently under pressure from the military leadership, resigns. A five-member Higher State Council, chaired by Mohamed Boudiaf, takes over. 1992 June 29 - Boudiaf is assassinated during a live televised speech, by a member of his bodyguard with alleged Islamist links. Violence increases


Algeria on Screen

and the Armed Islamic Group (GIA) emerges as the main group behind these operations. 1994 - Liamine Zéroual, a retired army colonel, is appointed chairman of the Higher State Council. 1995 - Zéroual wins a five-year term as President of the Republic, with a comfortable majority. 1996 - Proposed constitutional changes approved in a referendum, by over 85 percent of voters. 1997 - Parliamentary elections won by the newly-created Democratic National Rally, followed by the moderate Islamic party, Movement of Society for Peace. 1998 - President Zéroual announces his intention to cut short his term and hold early presidential elections. 1998 June - Celebrated Berber singer Matoub Lounès is assassinated. 1999 - Former Foreign Minister, Abdelaziz Bouteflika, elected as president after all opposition candidates withdraw from race, saying there were inadequate guarantees of fair and transparent elections. 1999 - Referendum approves Bouteflika's law on civil concord, the result of long and largely secret negotiations with the armed wing of the FIS, the Islamic Salvation Army (AIS). Thousands of members of the AIS and other armed groups are pardoned. 2000 - Attacks on civilians and security forces. Some suspect this to be the work of groups opposed to the civil concord. Some estimate casualties to be over 150,000 deaths in Algeria since 1992. 2001 April/May - Dozens of demonstrators are killed by security forces, during protests in the Berber region of Kabylia, following the death of a teenager in police custody. 2001 November - Thousands are killed by floods in Algiers, especially in Bab el-Oued.

Chronology of Algeria


2002 March - President Bouteflika declares that the Berber language, Tamazight, is to be recognized as a national language. 2003 May 21 - More than 2,000 people are killed and thousands are injured by a powerful earthquake in the north of Algeria. 2003 June - Leader of the outlawed Islamic Salvation Front (FIS), Abbassi Madani, and his deputy, Ali Belhadj, are released from prison after serving 12-year sentences. 2004 April - President Bouteflika is re-elected to a second term in a landslide poll victory. 2005 - Government makes deal with Berber leaders, promising more investment in the Kabylia region and greater recognition for the Tamazight language. 2006 March - Six-month amnesty begins, under which fugitive militants who surrender will be pardoned, except for the most serious of crimes. 2006 May - Algeria is to pay back all of its eight billion dollar debt to the Paris Club group of rich creditor nations, in a move seen as reflecting its economic recovery. 2006 December - Roadside bomb hits a bus carrying staff of a US oil firm, killing one man. The Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat (GSPC) claims responsibility. 2007 January - Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat renames itself the al-Qaeda Organization in the Islamic Maghreb. 2007 September - At least 50 people are killed in a series of bombings. Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb claims responsibility for the attacks. 2007 December - Double car bombing in Algiers hits a UN building and a bus full of students, killing dozens of people. 2008 June - Four Algerian Christian converts from Islam receive jail sentences for worshipping illegally.


Algeria on Screen

2008 August - About 60 people are killed in bombings in towns east of Algiers. Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb claims responsibility. 2008 November - Parliament approves constitutional changes, allowing President Bouteflika to run for a third term. 2009 April - President Bouteflika wins third term at the polls. 2011 January - Major protests over food prices and unemployment. 5 people killed and over 800 injured in clashes with security forces. The government orders cuts to the price of basic food items like oil, sugar and flour. 2011 February - President Abdelaziz Bouteflika lifts 19-year-old state of emergency––a key demand of anti-government protesters. 2012 September - President Bouteflika appoints Minister of Water Resources and key ally, Abdelmalek Sellal, as prime minister, ending post-election uncertainty. 2012 December - French President François Hollande acknowledges suffering caused by France's colonization of Algeria, but stops short of an apology. 2013 January - Dozens of foreign hostages were killed when Islamists besieged a natural gas complex in the Sahara. Government forces dealt with the issue unilaterally, which infuriated some countries, whose citizens were among the victims. 2013 April - President Bouteflika suffers a stroke and spends three months in France being treated. 2014 April - Bouteflika wins another term as president, in elections condemned by the opposition as flawed. 2015 September - President Bouteflika sacks Mohamed Mediène, head of the top intelligence body for 25 years; Mediène was regarded as a major power behind the scenes.

Chronology of Algeria


2016 January - Tens of thousands attend the funeral of national independence hero Hocine Aït-Ahmed. 2016 January - President Bouteflika abolishes the top military-run DRS, which was widely regarded as a state within a state, and replaces it with a body under control of the presidency. 2016 February - Parliament passes constitutional reforms, limiting presidents to two terms, expanding the legislature's power, and giving the Berber language official status. 2016 December - British-Algerian journalist, Mohamed Tamalt, dies three months into a hunger strike to protest a two-year jail term for offending President Bouteflika in a poem and video post on Facebook. 2017  September - Italian news agency ANSA reported that almost one thousand Algerians had reached its islands in the south, aboard smugglers' boats. Hundreds died during the crossings. 2018 Jan 12 - Algerian Berbers celebrated their New Year (Yennayer), finally recognized as an official public holiday. Feasts, music concerts and parades across Algeria, a country where the indigenous Imazighen (Berbers) have long suffered marginalization. 2019 February- Peaceful protests began against Bouteflika’s candidacy for a fifth presidential term. These demonstrations, known as the Hirak Mouvement, continue to this day, on a weekly basis. In the meantime, presidential elections have been postponed and dozens of former offcials have been arrested and put in prison. 2019 October- Since the resignation of Bouteflika on April 2, Abdelkader Bensalah has been Interim President and General Gaid Salah as Chief of the Army. They both keep pushing for presidential elections in December, but the population seems to call for an entire change of the regime. Protests continue every Friday in the major cities of the country.


Primary Sources Merzak Allouache’s Selected Filmography 2020 Paysages d’automne ; 2018 Vent divin ; 2016 Enquête au Paradis ; 2015 Madame Courage; 2013 Les Terrasses ; 2012 Le repenti ; 2012 La baie d'Alger (TV) ; 2011 Normal !; 2011 Tata Bakhta (TV) ; 2009 Harragas; 2008 Tamanrasset (TV); 2004 Bab el Web; 2003 Chouchou; 2001 L'autre monde; 1998 Alger-Beyrouth: Pour mémoire (TV); 1996 Salut cousin!; 1994 Jours Tranquilles en Kabylie (documentary); 1993 Bab el-Oued City; 1989 L'aprèsOctobre (documentary) ; 1989 Femmes en mouvements (documentary) ; 1986 Un amour à Paris ; 1982 L'homme qui regardait les fenêtres ; 1978 Les Aventures d’un héros ; 1976 Omar Gatlato. Texts Allouache, Merzak."’Salut cousin!’ de Merzak Allouache: découpage et dialogues in-extenso après montage." Avant-Scène Cinéma , Dec. 1996, Issue 457, pp. 4–64. Allouache, Merzak. Bab El-Oued: A Novel. Boulder, CO: L. Rienner, 1997.

Secondary Sources Abderrezak, Hakim. Ex-Centric Migrations: Europe and the Maghreb in mediterranean Cinema, Literature, and Music. Bloomington: Indiana University press, 2016. Aftab, Kaleem. Interview with Merzak Allouache, “Exposing Algeria and the Existential Angst Faced by its Youth,” in The National, September 9, 2015.


Algeria on Screen

Aissaoui, Boualem. Images et visages du cinéma algérien. Algiers: ONCIC, 1984. Alion, Yves. "Entretien avec Merzak Allouache."  Avant-Scène Cinéma, Nov. 2001, Issue 506, pp. 139–142. Anon. “Quarante ans de Cinéma algérien” in Cahiers du Cinéma, Horssérie: “Où va le cinéma algérien?” (2003), p.82. Armes, Roy. Omar Gatlato. Trowbridge: Flicks Books, 1998. Armes, Roy. Postcolonial Images: Studies in North African Film. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2005. Austin, Guy."Against amnesia: Representations of memory in Algerian cinema." Journal of African Cinemas; Vol. 2 Issue 1, 2010, pp. 27–35. Austin, Guy. Algerian National Cinema. Manchester University Press, 2012. Barlet, Olivier. Interview with Merzak Allouache “Je déposerai mes scénarios au ministère et si on me refuse le financement, je me débrouillerai.” Africultures, les Mondes en Relations. April 8, 2013. Baudrillard, Jean. “Nique ta mère !” in Libération, Friday, November 18, 2005. Bedjaoui, Ahmed. Cinéma et guerre de libération: Algérie, des batailles d’images. Algiers: Chihab Éditions, 2014. Bedjaoui, Ahmed. Le Cinéma à son Âge d’Or. Algiers: Chihab Éditions, 2018. Bensmaïa, Réda. "Nations of Writers", STCL, Volume 23, No.1 (Winter 1999). Bensmaïa, Réda. Experimental Nations, or the Invention of the Maghreb. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2003. Boudraa, Nabil. “Interview with Ahmed Bedjaoui: Algerian Cinema in the New Millenium.” Journal of North African Studies, Vol. 22, Number 5, December 2017, pp. 709–710. Boudraa, Nabil. “Counter-history and Resistance in the Films of Merzak Allouache,” CELAAN Review, vol. XIV, no. 2 & 3, Fall 2017.



Boudraa, Nabil. “Women in Algeria,” Women's Lives around the World: A Global Encyclopedia. General Editor: Susan Shaw. December 2017. Boudraa, Nabil. “Investigating Paradise” (film review), African Studies Review, Volume 60, Issue 2. September 2017. Boudraa, Nabil. “Madame Courage” (film review), African Studies Review, Vol. 59, Issue 2: September 2016. pp. 311–313. Boudraa, Nabil. “The Rooftops” (film review), African Studies Review, Vol. 59, Issue 01: April 2016. pp. 229–230. Boudraa, Nabil and Joseph Krause. Special Issue “Loss, Displacement and Exile in Algerian Cinema,” Journal of North African Studies, Vol. 22 (5), October. Brahimi, Denise. 50 ans de cinéma maghrébin, Paris, Minerve, 2009. Camus, Albert. Summer in Algiers. New York: Penguin, 2005. Camus, Albert. Exile and the Kingdom: Short stories. Penguin, 2013. Chalbi-Drissi, Hassania. Le féminisme au Maghreb: http://www. Constable, Liz. "Hearing Cultures: Acoustic Architecture and Cinematic Soundscapes of Algiers in Merzak Allouache and Nadir Moknèche."  Contemporary French Civilization: An Interdisciplinary Journal Devoted to the Study of French Speaking Cultures throughout the World, vol. 33, no. 1, Winter 2009, pp. 179–208. Crouzières-Ingenthron, Armelle. "Merzak Allouache ou le nouveau cinéma algérien."  CinémAction, 2004 Issue 111, pp. 177–183. Daoud, Kamel. “The Sexual Misery of the Arab World.” The New York Times, Feb 12, 2016. Daoud, Kamel. “Je ne suis ni un intellectuel de l’Occident ni celui de la soumission chez moi.” El Watan, February 14, 2017. Ditmars, Hadani."Algiers in Paris." Sight & Sound; Vol. 6 Issue 1, Jan. 96, pp. 14–16. Ditmars, Hadani."Torn Apart." Sight and Sound, vol. 5, no. 9, September 1995 pp. 34–36.


Algeria on Screen

Djebar, Assia. Women of Algiers in Their Apartment. University of Virginia Press, 1999. Donadey, Anne. Recasting Postcolonialism: Women Writing Between Worlds. Greenwood Publishing, 2001. Downing, D.H. Film and politics in the Third World. New York: Praeger Publishers, 1987. Dubois-Chabert, Jean-Louis. Interview “La Nostalgérie selon Merzak Allouache” in La Dépêche du Midi, November 23, 2001. Fanon, Frantz. The Wretched of the Earth. New York, Grove Press, 2005. Ghali, Noureddine. “Interview with Ousmane Sembène.” In Film and Politics in the Third World, edited by John Downing. New York: Praeger, 1986. pp. 45–50. Glissant, Édouard. Poétique de la Relation, Paris : Gallimard, 1990. Glissant, Édouard. L'Intention Poétique, Paris : Seuil, 1980. Green, Mary Jean. "Echoes of the Casbah: From Pépé le Moko to Bab elOued City." Nottingham French Studies, vol. 46, no. 1, Spring 2007. pp. 68–83. Hadj-Moussa, Ratiba. "Marginality and ordinary memory: body centrality and the plea for recognition in recent Algerian films." The Journal of North African Studies, 1743-9345, Volume 13, Issue 2, 2008, pp. 187–199. Hargreaves, Alec. “From ‘Ghettoes’ to Globalization: Situating Maghrebi-French Filmmakers.” In Screening Integration: Recasting Maghrebi Immigration in Contemporary France, edited by S. Durmelat and V. Swamy. Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press, 2011, pp. 25–40. Higbee, Will. "Locating the Postcolonial in Transnational Cinema: The Place of Algerian Émigré Directors in Contemporary French Film." Modern & Contemporary France; Vol. 15 Issue 1, Feb. 2007, pp. 51–64. Gugler, Josef (ed.). Ten Arab Filmmakers: Political Dissent and Social Critique. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2015.



Khalil Flores, Andrea. "Interview with Merzak Allouache." Journal of North African Studies, Volume 10 Issue 2, 2005 pp. 143–156. Khalil Flores, Andrea. "The Myth of Masculinity in the Films of Merzak Allouache." Journal of North African Studies, Volume 12 Issue 3, 2007. pp. 329–345. Khatibi, Saïd. “Algerian Filmmaker Merzak Allouache Struggles with Censorship after Long Career,” in Al Akhbar, November 23, 2011, ( Malandrin, Steph."Merzak Allouache, chronique d'un temps de mal-vie." Cahiers du Cinéma, 1995, 487, pp. 78–87. Malkmus, Lizbeth. "Merzak Allouache: An Interview." Framework: The Journal of Cinema & Media, Issue 29, 1985, pp. 30–41. Malkmus, Lizbeth, and Roy Armes. Arab and African Film Making. London: Zed Books, 1991. McMurray, David. "Bab el-Oued City." Visual Anthropology, Vol. 10 Issue 2/4, 1998, pp. 443–446. Mèdiene, Benamar. « Un état déconnecté », in Le nouvel observateur, 9, 1992, pp. 72–73. Métaoui, Fayçal. "Festival d'Oran: Merzak Allouache agresse les journalistes" in El Watan, December 21, 2011. Medjdoub, Kamel. “Les ‘surmusulmanes’ ou le fondamentalisme au féminine”, in El Watan, December 9, 2017. Mundy, Jacob Andrew. "Visualizing National Reconciliation after the Algerian Civil War: Violence, Gender, and ‘virtual justice’ in Film." In Spectacles of Blood: A Study of Violence and Masculinity In Postcolonial Films. Ed. Swaralipi Nandi and Esha Chatterjee. New Delhi: Zubaan, 2012. Mundy, Jacob Andrew. Imaginative Geographies of Algerian Violence: Conflict Science, Conflict Management, Antipolitics, Stanford University Press, Studies in Middle Eastern and Islamic Societies and Cultures, 2015. Prochaska, David."That was then, this is now: The Battle of Algiers and after." Radical History Review, Issue 85 (Winter 2003), pp. 133–149.


Algeria on Screen

Reader, Keith."Salut Cousin!"/"Hey Cousin!," Sight and Sound, Vol. 8 Issue 5. (May 1998) pp. 54–55. Rice, Alison. “Filming for Change: Solidarity and Cinematic Engagement in Merzak Allouache’s Normal!” CELAAN Review, Vol. XIV, 2&3, Fall 2017. Rosello, Mireille."Immigrants and the Logic of Interchangeability: Merzak Allouache's 'Salut cousin!' and Jean de la Fontaine's 'The Town Rat and the Country Rat.' " In: Postcolonial hospitality: the immigrant as guest. Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 2001. Rosello, Mireille. “Merzak Allouache’s Salut Cousin! Immigrants, Hosts, and Parasites.” South Central Review, vol. 17, no. 3, October 2000. pp. 104–118. Rosello, Mireille. “Dissident or Conformist Passing: Merzak Allouache’s Chouchou” in South Central Review, Vol. 28, no. 1, 2011, pp. 2–17. Rousso, Henri. The Vichy Syndrome. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1994. Shafik, Viola. Arab Cinema: History and Cultural Identity. New York: The American Univ. in Cairo Press, 2007. Stora, Benjamin. « L’absence d’images déréalise l’Algérie » Cahiers du Cinéma, spécial Algérie (2003), pp. 6–13. Tamzali, Wassyla. En Attendant Omar Gatlato, Alger, Éditions ENPA, 1979. Tcheuyap, Alexie."Entre intertextualité et réécriture: Bab el-Oued et Bab el-Oued City de Merzak Allouache." Présence Francophone: Revue Internationale de Langue et de Littérature, vol. 65, 2005. pp. 49–67. Thoraval, Yves. "Merzak Allouache, un aller-retour permanent entre Alger et Paris." Avant-Scène Cinéma, Issue 457, décembre 1996, pp. 1–3. Toumi, Alek. « Literature and Power: Muslims vs. Islamists. » Religion and Literature, University of Notre Dame, 2011, volume 43.1, pp. 126– 132. Trinh, Ravith. “Interview with Merzak Allouache”, Mondomix, February 27, 2010.



Waldron, Darren."From critique to compliance: Images of ethnicity in Salut cousin (1996) and Chouchou (2003)." Studies in European Cinema, Vol. 4 Issue 1, 2007, pp. 35–47. Yacine, Kateb. Nedjma, Paris: Seuil, 1956.

Podcasts, Interviews, Radio Shows, Online Articles "BBC NEWS | Africa | Q&A: Algerian Referendum." BBC News - Home. 29 Sept. 2005. Web. 04 Dec. 2010. . Labidi, Kamel. “Amnesia is the price of Algerian peace and reconciliation”: “Un autre jour est possible.” 10 avril 2013. http://www.franceculture. fr/emissions/un-autre-jour-est-possible/une-histoire-des-papes-filmmerzak-allouache. Allouache, Merzak : “J’ai un devoir d’engagement." July 18, 2013. http:// “La Grande Mosquée d’Alger: Un projet pharaonique qui couterait au moins l’équivalent de 20 hôpitaux” in Chouf Chouf, November 6, 2017. ( Accessed on December 15, 2017. La Grande Table (Première Partie)  par  Olivia Gesbert. February 16, 2017. Accessed December 2, 2017. Normal!


Abada, Salima, 150 Abbassi, Madani, 38–39, 53, 203, 205 Abu Dhabi, xvi activists, 29, 38, 48–49, 58, 155 addiction, 115, 117, 120, 147 Adulterous Woman, The, 79 Adventures of a Hero, 4, 11, 17, 28–32, 94, 145 Afghanistan, 41, 68, 146 AIDS, 85 Aït Ahmed, Hocine, 46, 53, 133, 160, 174, 202, 207 Aït Menguellet, Lounis, 47, 175, 191 Akli, 27, 140 Alaikum, Salaam, 157 Al-Djazaïr, Tahya, xvi Alger Républicain, 54 Alger-Beyrouth: Pour mémoire, 36 Algeria from Above, xv, xvii, 173 Algeria: Anger of the Dispossessed, 109 Algerian GSPC (Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat), 161, 200, 205 Algerian Journalists Movement, 54 Algerian Ministry of Tourism, 173 Algerian Revolution, 15, 33, 39, 46, 129, 144, 167 Algerian Television, 4, 91, 174 Algerian War of Independence, 10–11, 14, 38, 57, 92, 138, 202 Algérie en Democratie, 36 Algérie vue du ciel, xv, 188–189 Algiers, 2–6, 12, 14, 18–20, 27–28,

Algiers (continued), 30, 34, 36, 40–41, 43, 48, 53, 57, 59–62, 67–68, 76, 89, 93–94, 115, 117–118, 120, 123–124, 127–129, 131–132, 135, 139–142, 144, 148–151, 156, 161, 168, 187, 191, 193, 195, 203–206 Algiers-Beirut: A Souvenir, 5, 12, 36, 60–61, 67 Alilo, 2, 89–94, 98, 119 Allah, 163 Alloula, Abdelkader, 174 allusions, 3, 22, 28–29 al-Qaeda, 161, 205–206 Ameur-Zaïmeche, Rabah, 86 Amina, 127–128, 131 Amine, 163–164 Amirouche, Colonel, 46 amnesia, 8–9, 65, 93, 107–108, 133, 137, 173, 179, 191 amnesty, 6, 12, 67, 103–106, 108–109, 111, 205 Amour à Paris, Un, 2, 32, 72, 86, 94 Amrouche, Jean, 87, 89 Amrouche, Taos, 47 Anger, The, 138 anguish, xiv, 8, 118, 124, 137 anticolonialism, 16, 188 anxiety, 27, 36, 54, 122, 124, 151, 191 Apuleius, 143 AQMI (Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb), 161, 199 Arab Film Festival, 5, 40 Arab invasion, 56, 69


Algeria on Screen

Arab Spring, xiv, 7, 12, 53, 121, 123–124, 130–131, 137, 139, 141, 162 Arabic, xvi, 22, 26, 34, 48, 59, 69, 75, 82, 100–101, 117, 120–121, 127, 131, 147, 164–165, 176, 190, 194 Arabo-Islamist ideology, 38 Armed Islamic Group (GIA), 39, 44, 200, 204 Armes, Roy, 9, 19–21, 33–34 Aron, Raymond, 149 ARTE, 5, 36, 46, 60, 84 Arthus-Bertrand, Yann, xv, xvii, 161, 173 artists, xi, 3, 5, 8, 24–25, 29, 39, 43, 65, 73, 124–126, 129, 131, 152, 155, 173–176 Asla, Souad, 158 assassination, 27, 39, 47, 49–50, 54, 69, 125, 129, 138, 160, 168, 174, 202–204 asylum, 96 Ath Yenni, 49 atrocities, 49 audiences, 32, 42, 128 Augustine, Saint, 143, 201 Aurelius, Marcus, 150 Austin, Guy, 9, 100, 109, 133, 173, 179 authoritarianism, 131, 173 Bab el-Oued, 2, 4–5, 8, 10–11, 14, 18–19, 28, 30, 35, 37, 40–46, 61, 63, 67–68, 113, 117–118, 129, 140, 142, 145–146, 194, 204 Bab el-Oued City, 2, 5, 8, 10–11, 14, 28, 30, 35, 40–42, 44–46, 61, 63, 67, 113, 117, 129, 140, 145–146 Bab el-Web, 6, 12, 98, 103–104, 116–121, 134, 137, 141 Bachir-Chouikh, Yamina, 8 Barlet, Olivier, 134, 154

barricades, 30 Battle of Algiers, The, 57, 135, 149 Bedjaoui, Ahmed, 10, 14, 17, 33, 110, 134 Beirut, 5, 12, 36, 60–62, 67 Béjaïa, 14, 40 Belaidi, Malika, 48 Belcourt, 142 Belhadad, Sheikh, 46 Belhadj, Ali, 39, 53, 203, 205 Ben Bouali, Hassiba, 57 Ben Brahim, Hadj Moussa, 158 Ben Jelloun, Tahar, 74 Bendimerad, Adila, 128 Bendjedid, Chadli, 37, 39, 53, 203 Benguigui, Yamina, 86 Bensmaïa, Réda, 9, 80, 101 Bentalha, 157 Berber, 26–27, 34, 36–37, 47–49, 56–57, 69, 134, 142, 164, 167–168, 176, 178, 201, 203–205, 207 Berlin Wall, 5, 38, 81 Between Terror and Democracy: Algeria Since 1989, 161, 169 Beur, 12, 87, 90–91, 97, 118 Bicyclette, À, 7, 187 Biyouna, 157 BMW, 42, 61, 70 Borders, 74 boredom, 15, 18, 77, 80 Boualem, 2, 5, 8, 41–45, 74, 80, 159 Bouchareb, Rachid, 86, 162 Boudarène, Mahmoud, 159 Boudiaf, Mohamed, 39, 69, 174, 203 Bouhired, Djamila, 57 Boumédiène, Houari, 8, 24–25, 28–29, 33, 138, 202 Bouteflika, Abdelaziz, 36, 74, 110, 204, 206

Index Bouzid, 117–120 Byzantines, 142, 201 Cahier noir d’octobre, 115 Camus, Albert, xiii, 43, 54, 68, 79, 100, 103, 142, 167, 187 CAN (African Soccer Cup of Nations), 165 Cannes Film Festival, 4 Carthage, 142 Casbah, 4, 93, 128, 130, 135, 142, 147–148, 194 Cato, the Elder, 142 cemetery, 42, 97, 120, 161, 168 censorship, 2, 7, 24–25, 76, 86, 109, 122–127, 129, 131, 135, 137, 144, 147, 149, 173, 179 chaabi, 19, 22, 26, 93, 150 Chahine, Youssef, 3, 176, 193 Chalbi-Drissi, Hassania, 58 Chao, Manu, 72 chaos, 139, 177 Chaou, Abdelkader, 22, 26 Chaoui, 26, 134 Charte pour la Paix et la Réconciliation Nationale, 105, 109 chat rooms, 117, 157 Chemsou, Sheikh, 157 children, 23, 33, 37, 50, 57–58, 63, 65, 74, 79, 87, 97, 113–115, 119, 128, 143, 148, 157–159 Chouaki, Aziz, 8 Chouchou, 1–2, 6, 9, 12, 32, 72, 86–87, 94–98, 101, 116–117, 134, 187 Christian, 42, 119–120, 150, 205 cigarette, 118, 140, 145 Cinema Bus Program, 17 Cinémathèque d’Alger, 59 cinematography, 32, 188 cinéma-vérité, 126

219 Ciotat, La, 86 citizens, 38, 43, 58, 77, 89, 92, 118, 206 Citoyenne, La, 48 Civil Concord Law, 106 civil war, xiii, 5, 8, 14, 27, 36–37, 45, 47–48, 52, 54, 58, 60–61, 63, 65–66, 68–69, 72, 91, 96, 103–104, 107, 114, 116, 120–121, 133–134, 137–138, 148, 158 cleric, 37 coast guard, 74, 83 Cohn-Bendit, Daniel, 94 Cologne, 21 colonialism, xi, xiii, xvii, 1, 16, 20, 38, 46, 58, 87, 143, 148–149, 160–161, 172, 188, 201 comedy, 3, 5–6, 25, 93–94, 96, 98, 116, 118, 134, 191 Comité National Contre la Torture, 115 Concorde Civile, 104 conservatism, 1, 20, 42, 56–57, 77–78, 97, 126–127, 150, 168, 173 corruption, 7, 25, 30, 37, 43, 116, 127, 129, 137, 142, 151, 155, 173, 176 couscous, 98 Crémieux Decree, 92, 201 crime, 7, 33, 120, 134, 138, 150 critics, xi, 5, 32, 40–41 Critics’ Prize, 5, 40 cybercafés, 117 daily life, 3, 18–19, 26, 47, 117, 120, 122, 138, 153, 164 Dans la décapotable, 7 Daoud, Kamel, 8, 21–22, 34, 38, 68, 143, 156, 167, 194 Darja, 26, 190 Dark Decade, xiii, 7–8, 11, 14, 27, 35–37, 40, 46, 50, 58, 63, 67,


Algeria on Screen

Dark Decade (continued), 72, 87, 99, 103–104, 106, 110, 115–116, 133, 139, 147–149, 158, 173, 178 Djadjam, Mostéfa, 74 Djebar, Assia, 20, 34, 55 debate, 27, 29–30, 57, 75, 92, 100, 104, 106, 108, 110, 125, 128, 144, 168 décennie noire, La, xiii, 139 Délice Paloma, 74, 167 demons, 62, 95, 106, 145 demonstrations, 53, 123–124, 127, 130, 167, 203, 207 derja, 101, 120, 147, 164, 176, 190 desert, 6, 28, 66, 74, 83–84, 86, 123, 156, 158, 161, 163, 175 despair, 3, 171 dialogue, 6, 26–28, 84, 106, 108–111, 114, 123, 126, 135, 147, 190 diaspora, 3, 121 Dib, Mohammed, 54 Direction Générale de la Sureté Nationale, 121 disenfranchised, 2, 18, 37, 62, 134, 153–154, 164, 174–175 disintegration, 138 diversity, 5, 11, 50, 78, 94, 178 Divine Wind, 137–138, 161–162, 165, 186 Djadjam, Mostéfa, 74 Djaout, Tahar, 38, 49–50, 54, 125, 129, 160, 174 djinns, 145 documentaries, 1, 3, 5, 36, 94 Doha Institute, 123 Donadey, Anne, 93, 101 double peine, 92, 118 Drif, Zohra, 57 drugs, 2, 115, 120, 138, 140, 146–148, 151–152, 154, 165, 176, 191

Egypt, 3, 83, 125, 157, 162, 168 El Dorado, 12, 73, 76, 79 El Moudjavide, 54 El Wajda, Zaouïa of, 158 El-Alia cemetery, 161 El-Kheir, Sabah, 157 Elmaleh, Gad, 5–6, 89, 96, 116 emigration, 12, 32, 42, 67, 71–74, 81 emir, 39, 62, 65, 164, 201 Enquête au Paradis, 9, 195 exclusion, 148, 173 exiled, 2, 107 failure, 12, 32, 66, 73, 114, 188, 190 Family Code, 20, 33, 57, 203 Fanon, Frantz, 16–17, 33 fatwa, 157–158, 168 Faulkner, William, 3 favoritism, 129 female, 20, 42–43, 77, 126, 134, 144, 168, 193 feminist, 48, 53, 55, 58–59, 65, 69, 157 Femmes en Mouvements, 36, 55, 58, 60, 68 FFS (Socialist Forces Front), 49, 199, 202 fight, 20, 23, 41, 47–48, 56, 60, 68–69, 91, 120–121, 125, 127, 131, 146, 159, 161–162, 173 FIS (Islamic Salvation Front), 12, 36, 38–39, 44–45, 48, 53, 69, 199, 203–205 FLN (National Liberation Front), 16–17, 37, 39, 46, 53–54, 68–70, 135, 199, 202 Flores Khalil, Andrea, 9, 93 Following October, 5 France, 1–3, 5–6, 10–12, 14, 17–18, 21–22, 26, 30, 34, 36, 43, 46, 56–57, 63, 69–70, 72–73, 78, 81–82, 84–101, 107, 116,

Index France (continued), 118–121, 129, 133–134, 142, 144, 148–149, 155, 159–162, 164, 167, 172–173, 177, 179, 187, 195, 199–202, 206 freedom of expression, 125 Frères Musulmans, Les, 38 Frot, Catherine, 14, 96 fundamentalism, 8, 10–11, 14, 35, 41, 43–44, 58, 117, 147, 151, 154, 173, 191 gambling, 120 Garcia Márquez , Gabriel, 3 gas, 37, 82, 130, 139, 150, 153, 161, 202–203, 206 gender, 11, 26, 57–59, 68, 77, 142, 176 Gender and Trade Network in Africa (GENTA), 58 Germany, 21, 155 ghettos, 150, 153 ghosts, 138 GIA, 39, 44, 200, 204 globalization, 11, 100, 116, 158, 177 Gnawa Diffusion, 66, 70 Godard, Jean-Luc, 18 gold, 19 government, xiii, xv, 6, 8, 12, 16–17, 23–26, 29–30, 32–34, 36–40, 42, 44–46, 48–49, 53–54, 57, 67–70, 73–76, 84, 86, 90, 103–107, 109, 113–115, 117, 128, 130, 137, 141–144, 150–153, 167, 174–175, 203, 205–206 Grand Prize, 5, 40 grievances, 58 group prayers, 140 Haddad, Moussa, 74 Haidar, Sara, 158 Hakem, Tewfik, 107 Hakim, 63–66, 78, 100, 113, 133, 192 Halim, 140

221 Hamas, 48, 135 harlequins, 43, 140 Hargraeves, Alec, 86 Harragas, 6, 10, 12, 72–74, 76–77, 80–82, 84, 100, 122, 129, 131, 151, 165, 174, 190, 195 Hasni, Cheb, 174 HCA (Haut Commissariat à l’Amazighité), 143, 200 headscarf, 42 heart, 42, 56, 62, 71, 96, 140, 161, 191–193 heaven, 157 heroes, 23, 30, 33, 39, 46, 129, 144, 152, 167, 175 Higbee, Will, 9, 93, 101, 128, 135, 172, 179 hijab, 59, 69 Hindi, 19 hittistes, 120 hogra, 75, 147 Hollande, François, 149, 206 human rights, 80, 105–106 humor, 3–4, 25, 54, 84, 96, 111, 142, 190 hypocrisy, 30, 44, 85, 95, 127, 147 Ibn Rushd (Averroes), 59 identity, 2, 24, 38, 42, 48, 64, 71–72, 75, 86–87, 90, 118, 147, 153, 161–162, 172, 178–179 IDHEC, 4, 200 Idir, 47, 175, 191 Ighil Iloula, 59 Il était une fois Donyazad, 7 imam, 28, 44, 64, 91, 145, 155–156, 158, 168 Imazighen, 134, 142, 207 immigrant, 2, 5, 9, 11–12, 32, 63, 71–73, 80, 85–90, 93–94, 96, 98, 101, 119 immigrés, les, 119


Algeria on Screen

imprisoned, 29, 107 individualism, 138, 145 indoctrination, 113, 138 Institut des Hautes Études Cinématographiques, 4, 200 intellectual, 5, 8, 21–22, 24, 29, 37–39, 43, 58, 74–75, 106, 122, 156, 174 Investigating Paradise, 7, 9, 12, 45, 137–138, 146, 155, 163, 165, 184 ISIS, 91 Islamic fanaticism, 8, 10–11, 14, 27, 35, 56, 117, 147, 154, 173 Islamism, xiii–xiv, 2, 5, 11, 30, 36–38, 40, 44, 46–49, 53, 58, 61, 65, 68, 78, 87, 91, 104, 107, 130, 141, 147, 149, 151, 156, 159–160, 162–164, 169, 171, 176, 206 Islamophobia, 22 Italian, 4, 18, 92, 207 jewelry, 19, 23 Jewish, 92, 94–95, 119–120, 150 jihadist, 104, 110, 162, 164 journalists, 6, 12, 36–37, 39, 52–54, 61, 67, 73, 109, 123, 129, 135, 156 Jours Tranquilles en Kabylie, 27, 36, 46–47, 195 Jugurtha, 143, 201 Kabyle, 26–27, 33, 46–48, 50, 59, 70, 134, 167, 190, 195 Kabylia, 4, 12, 14, 27, 33, 36, 46–49, 59, 67, 69, 97, 121, 124, 127, 161, 167, 195, 201–205 Kahina, 56, 60, 69–70 Kateb, Amazigh, 66, 70 Kateb, Yacine, 34, 38, 54–55, 60, 66, 68, 133, 169, 174–175, 177, 179, 190–191 Kenza, 50–52 Khadra, Yasmina, 8 Khelil, Saïd, 49

kiss, 126–127 Koran, 48, 145, 158–159, 163–164, 168 Krimo, 7, 148 Lakhdar-Hamina, Mohamed, 17 Lamine, Sheikh, 145–146 landlord, 147 language barrier, 6 Larbi, Uncle, 143 Laurence, 61–62, 118–120 Le Sueur, James, 161 LGBT, 12, 95, 97 liberation, 1, 11, 16, 33, 37–39, 57, 69, 101, 121, 143–144, 199, 202 Libya, 83, 162 Life and Death of Algerian Journalists, 12, 36, 52, 67 Lim, Son Hwee, 93, 101 Loach, Ken, 3, 193 love, xiv, xvi, 4–5, 12, 45, 64–65, 85, 90, 94–96, 140, 153–154, 173–174, 177, 190 Love in Paris, A, 5, 12, 94 Lumière et Compagnie, 5 Matoub, Lounès, 27, 47, 49–50, 52, 69, 168, 174–175, 191, 195, 204 M’hamed, Hadj, 158 Mabrouk, 43, 130 Madame Courage, 2, 12, 30, 64–65, 134, 137–138, 150–154, 165, 190, 192, 195 madman, 30 Maghreb, 11–12, 21, 34, 58, 60, 69, 73–75, 86–87, 90, 100–101, 161–162, 169, 172, 177, 199, 201, 205–206 MAK (The Movement for the Autonomy of Kabylia), 49 Mal de Mer, 80–81 malaise, 88, 142

Index Mali, 83 mal-vie, 122 Mammeri, Mouloud, 46, 49, 133, 174 Man Who Looked at Windows, The, 5, 11, 28, 30, 32, 94 mariage blanc, 92 Marie, 94–95 Marseilles, 97 Marxism, 45–46 Massacres of May 1945, 138 Massinissa, 143, 201 Maurice, Monsieur, 92–94 MCB (Berber Cultural Movement), 49, 200 McMurray, David, 44, 68 Mécili, Ali, 174 Mediterranean, 6, 10–12, 43, 73–76, 80–83, 86, 142, 154, 160, 172, 178, 189, 191 Mehenni, Ferhat, 175, 191 Mekbel, Saïd, 54 Mess, 30, 43 Middle East, 11, 21, 34, 62, 80, 91, 133, 146, 162 migration, 6, 10–11, 72–74, 77, 80–81, 86, 115, 165, 173, 175–176 militants, 149, 202, 205 military, 4–5, 8, 24, 37–39, 46, 57, 63–64, 68, 70, 105, 135, 138–139, 202–203, 207 Milovavitch, Dr., 96–97 Mimouni, Rachid, 38, 174 Minister of Culture, 25 Ministry of the Mujahidin, 23 mismanagement, 139 misogyny, 7, 48, 142, 144–145 modesty, 20 Mok, 46, 87, 90–92, 119 Mokhtari, Aziouz, 54 Moknèche, Nadir, 8, 74, 167

223 Mondomix, 81, 100 Monicelli, Mario, 18 Morocco, 5, 57–58, 74, 83, 86, 100, 201–202 mosque, 41, 44, 91, 139, 147, 168, 203 Mostaganem, 76, 151 Mouvement des Journalistes Algériens, 54 Mouvements des femmes et féminismes au Maghreb, 58 Mozabite, 26 mujahidin, 23 multiethnic, xiii, 7 multilingual, xiii, 7 Mundy, Jacob, 44, 68, 133 murder, 37, 61, 66, 109 Muslim brotherhood, 38 Mustapha, 78, 155, 184 mythmaking, 23 N’Soumer, Fadhma, 46, 56 Nahdha, 48 Nasser, 77–78 National Institute of Cinema, 4 National Liberation Front, The, 11, 16, 37, 39, 57, 202 National Office of Commerce and Cinema Industry, 17 natural gas, 82, 139, 150, 202, 206 Nedjma, 68, 155, 158, 160–161, 168–169, 175, 177, 179, 184 neighborhood, 2, 4, 18–20, 28, 41, 44, 76–77, 85, 90–91, 94, 117–118, 126, 145, 149, 193 nepotism, 129 Niger, 83 Normal!, 2, 6, 12, 27, 30, 103–104, 121–124, 126, 129–131, 137, 149, 195 North Africa, 3, 12, 26, 34, 58, 62,


Algeria on Screen

North Africa (continued), 66, 69, 201 nostalgia, 44, 91, 96, 119 Notre Dame d’Afrique, 142 Nouba of the Women of Mount Chenoua, The, 20, 34 Office National du Commerce et de l’Industrie Cinématographiques, 17, 200 oil, 37, 75, 82, 95, 130, 139, 150, 153, 202–203, 205–206 Omar, 2, 4, 7, 9, 11, 15, 17–24, 26, 28, 30, 32–33, 64–65, 77, 80, 86, 94, 96, 117, 134, 140, 144, 151–154, 174, 179, 188, 191–193, 195–196 Omar Gatlato, 4, 7, 9, 11, 15, 17–24, 26, 28, 30, 32–33, 64–65, 77, 80, 86, 94, 96, 117, 134, 140, 144, 151, 154, 174, 179, 188, 191–193, 195 ONCIC, 17, 200 oppression, 3–4, 160 Other World, The, 5, 12, 35, 43, 62–63, 65, 67, 113, 153 Ouardya, 43, 45–46 Ouma, 162 outsider, xiv, 19, 172 overseas, 19, 81, 101, 111, 117, 157 Pan-African Festival of Algiers, 123 Paradise, 7, 9, 12, 45, 137–138, 146, 155–160, 163–165, 168, 183–184 Paris, xv, 2, 4–6, 12, 32, 40, 52, 58, 61, 66, 69, 72, 84, 86, 89, 93–94, 96, 116, 119, 133, 169, 179, 194, 205 Pasqua, Charles, 118 passport, 30, 43, 162 Pays, Le, 47 Peace Charter, 109 Peshawar, 146 Philippe, 84–85, 100

Pieds-Noirs, 92 Pigeon, The, 18 playwright, 123, 125, 127 Policy of Pardon and Reconciliation, 6, 107 Pontecorvo, Gillo, 57, 135, 149 postcolonial, xiii, 10, 34, 68, 188, 193 Pouvoir, le, 42, 53, 68, 70, 124 poverty, xiv, 18–19, 21, 23, 37, 69, 78, 80, 113, 128, 142, 148, 150, 153–154, 173, 176 power, 36, 44, 46, 68, 76, 104, 106, 124, 138, 144, 147, 152, 173, 175, 192, 206–207 prison, 45, 74–76, 94, 139, 205, 207 prostitution, 138, 151, 153–154 Quiet Days in Kabylia, 12, 27, 36, 46, 48, 67 Quotidien d’Oran, Le, 21, 68 Rachedi, Ahmed, 17 racism, 74, 80, 84, 91, 94–95, 98–99, 173 radical, xiii–xiv, 7, 41, 45, 58–59, 62, 64, 78, 120, 145, 151, 154–155, 157–160, 162, 176, 178 Ramadhan, 7, 47 Ramdane, Abane, 144 rape, 21–22, 37, 65–66, 109, 148 RCD (Rally for Culture and Democracy), 49, 200 Recasting Postcolonialism, 93, 101 reconciliation, 6, 36, 66, 68, 103, 105–107, 113–114, 116, 133, 137 referendum, 12, 106, 133, 204 refuge, 43, 91, 140, 147–148, 152, 201 Règle du Jeu, La, 85 religion, 2, 20, 28–29, 38, 50, 58, 68–69, 95, 145–146, 157–159,

Index religion (continued), 168, 202 Repentant, The, 2, 4, 6, 12, 66, 103–104, 107–111, 115, 122–123, 126, 137, 149, 153, 173 repression, 22, 36, 45–46, 75, 93, 108, 131, 191, 203 resentment, 23, 138–139 resistance, 9, 26–27, 37, 46, 54, 56–57, 60, 65, 164, 175, 191, 200–201 revolution, 15, 17, 22–23, 25, 33, 39, 45–46, 129, 144, 167, 199, 202 riots, 5, 27, 38, 46, 53–54, 78, 88, 115, 120–121, 124–126, 130–131, 134–135, 138, 151, 203 ritual, 41, 97 RMI (unemployment benefits), 85 Road to Istanbul, 162 Rome, 74, 142, 201 Rome Plutôt que Vous, 74 rooftops, xvi, 4, 7, 12, 23, 26, 28, 30, 43, 45, 120, 123, 132, 137–145, 147–152, 165, 167, 182 Rooftops, The, xvi, 4, 7, 12, 23, 26, 28, 30, 45, 132, 137–141, 143–145, 147–150, 165, 167, 182 Rosello, Mireille, 9, 93, 101 Rules of the Game, The, 85 Rwanda, 106 Sahara Desert, 6, 74, 83, 86, 156 Sahraoui, Djamila, 8 Salafist, 45, 138, 146, 155, 158–162, 165, 205 Salut Cousin!, 1–2, 5, 9, 12, 32, 52, 72, 86–87, 89, 91–94, 96–98, 101, 119, 187 Sansal, Boualem, 8, 74, 159 Sarkozy, Nicolas, 88 schizophrenia, 146, 157, 190 sea burners, 73, 75

225 segregation, 20, 94 self-censorship, 7, 126, 131, 135, 147, 149, 173, 179 selfishness, 138 Selma, 19–21, 64–65, 153–154 Selouma, 147 Sembène, Ousmane, xi, 3, 27, 34, 171, 176, 179, 193 Senegal, 3, 74, 83 Sept, La, 46, 133 sermon, 37, 41, 146, 153, 156–157, 164 sexism, 2, 22, 34, 57, 80, 140, 144, 146, 173 Sharia, 33, 57 sheikh, 46, 140, 145–146, 157, 168 Si Muhand ou M’hand Association, 48 silence, 6, 8, 74, 107–108, 111, 126, 135, 137, 148, 160–161, 163, 173 slogans, 29 slums, 30, 150 Smina, Moh, 19 socialist, 8, 11, 17, 33, 43, 49, 90, 101, 202 society, xi, xiii–xv, 1–4, 7–8, 10–11, 19, 21, 23, 29–30, 37–38, 42, 44–45, 47, 49, 59–60, 64–65, 72, 78, 84–89, 95, 97, 99, 104, 108, 111, 113, 115–116, 120–121, 125–129, 131–132, 134, 138–142, 145, 147–148, 150–156, 158–161, 163, 172–173, 175–176, 188–192, 194–195, 204 soul, 50, 140 Soummam Congress, 46 South Africa, 105–106 Soviet, 41, 146 Spaniards, 74, 76, 83, 142, 201 Spinoza, Baruch, 171 storytelling, 22, 31


Algeria on Screen

strangers, 119 street life, 4 struggle, 3, 16, 18, 38, 55, 57, 89, 93, 151, 188 suicide, 74, 78–79, 81, 115, 120, 138, 140, 145, 147 surveillance, 126 symbols, 28, 39 taboo, 20–21, 64, 73, 77, 86, 110, 127, 131, 143, 148, 171 Taleb Ibrahimi, Ahmed, 25 Tamanrasset, 6, 10, 72, 83–86, 175 Tamzali, Wassyla, 15 tape, 19 Targui, 26, 134 Tata Bakhta, 2, 12, 32, 72, 86, 91, 94, 97–98 Tazrout, Saïd, 47 Teguia, Tariq, 74 Telemly, 142 Télévision Algérienne, 4 terrorism, 32, 36, 44, 54, 61–62, 72, 77, 90, 95, 104–106, 109, 112, 114–115, 161, 164, 169, 176, 195 terrorist, 4–6, 11–12, 21, 48–49, 61–66, 70, 73, 104, 106, 108–109, 112–115, 121, 147–148, 153, 158, 160–162, 186 theft, 2, 41, 116, 138, 140, 152–153 Third World, xiii, 7, 34, 173, 179 Thouraya, 65 thugs, 19, 41, 135 Tigzirine, Rachid, 49 Timimoun, Zaouïa of, 158 Tizi Ouzou, 46 torture, 45, 115, 140, 149 Trabendist, 90 trabendo, 89, 101 transvestite, 2, 6, 96–97, 116 Truffaut, François, 18 Tunisia, 57–58, 83, 100, 125, 162,

Tunisia (continued), 201 Turks, 142 unemployed, 78, 120, 140 unemployment, 78, 120, 140 United Kingdom, 3, 70 unity, 16, 121, 138 Univerciné, 82, 100 university, 14, 34, 37, 39, 44, 68, 73, 100–101, 133, 135, 168, 179 Vandals, 142, 201 Vanessa, 96 veils, 43, 57, 66 Vichy Syndrome, The, 93, 101 victim, 37, 48–49, 52–53, 56, 58, 63–65, 74, 83, 105–108, 114, 124, 141, 148, 152–153, 156, 174, 206 Vie Normale, Une, 96 villager, 28 violence, xiv, 5, 7, 9–12, 27, 32, 35–37, 40, 42, 44, 46, 52–53, 60–63, 65, 67–68, 72–73, 85, 91, 96–97, 103–105, 107–108, 114–115, 117–118, 121, 127, 130, 133–135, 138–139, 145, 151, 153, 162, 171, 173, 175, 191, 203 virgin, 155–157, 168 Voices of Ramadhan, 7 voyage, 74 Wahhabist, 45 War of Independence, 7, 10–11, 14, 16–17, 23, 38, 57, 92, 138, 202 weapons, 6, 41, 105 white marriage, 92 women, xvi–xvii, 12, 18, 20–23, 33–34, 36–39, 42–43, 48, 55–60, 65, 67, 69, 81, 93, 101, 118–119, 124, 127, 140, 146, 153–154, 156–158, 162, 164, 167–168, 195 Women in Action, 12, 36, 67

Index Women of Algiers in their Apartment, 20, 34 working class, 2, 4, 18, 90, 94, 118, 193 World War II, 85 Wretched of the Earth, The, 16, 33 youth, xiv, 2, 6–7, 12, 14, 19–21,

227 youth (continued), 33, 37, 43, 46, 62, 64, 72–73, 75, 78–79, 81–82, 88, 113, 115, 117, 120, 122, 124–125, 128, 130–131, 134, 137, 140, 144, 147, 151–158, 160, 162, 164, 174, 187, 203 Zéroual, Liamine, 104–105, 204